The Australian government lodged an official complaint over a Chinese jet performing a dangerous maneuver in international waters. Late last month an Australian P-8 aircraft was on a routine mission when the Chinese jet launched flares and aluminum chaff in close proximity.
The aggressive action comes as China moves to assert more control over the South China Sea. It claims it owns over 90% of the area — a stance flatly rejected by the United States. Australia has also roundly rejected these territorial claims.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is also building a man-made archipelago attached to the Spratly Islands in order to increase its military presence in the region.
China is attempting to push smaller nations out of shipping lanes and maritime resources in order to control the flow of international trade. The CCP has also been very aggressive in the region diplomatically, in an attempt to accomplish the same goals through soft power.
Although no deals have been struck, China has attempted treaties with island nations such as the Solomon Islands. These agreements are part of the Belt Road initiative.
Australia is very concerned about agreements such as the Solomon Islands security deal because it impacts an area of the world they see as their backyard. China’s influence is clearly growing, as the Solomon Islands switched their diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China in 2009. Australia used to be the only player in the region politically, and now must compete with the CCP for influence.
Australia, New Zealand and the United States held to a strategy of open trade with China, betting that as the country grew economically, it would blunt any imperial ambitions. The thinking was that the CCP would become Westernized.
As Australia is learning, the more China ascends, the more belligerent it becomes. The United States is protected by its geographic distance from China; Australia does not have that luxury. And, as a result, Australia has been consistent in objecting to China’s exertion of power in the region.