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China’s hostile acts could lead to Australians dying, warns retired major general Mick Ryan

Latika M Bourke
The Nightly
3 Min Read
A Royal Australian Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, the same model as the one involved in the latest military flare-up with China.
A Royal Australian Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, the same model as the one involved in the latest military flare-up with China. Credit: LSIS Nadav Harel/Navy Imagery Unit Albatross

China’s hostile acts could lead to Australians dying, retired major general Mick Ryan has warned.

Ryan said the most recent incident, where a Chinese fighter pilot dropped a flare in front of an Australian helicopter, which was operating in international waters to enforce sanctions against North Korea was “childish, unsophisticated and very dangerous”.

“It’s strategically immature behaviour,” he said in answer to questions by The Nightly on the podcast Bourke & Ryan.

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“It would have been very simple for a PLA fighter pilot travelling at very high speed to misjudge where he dropped those flares and at what speed.

“That helicopter might have been hit by one or ingested one and had an engine failure.

“So this could have had potentially very catastrophic effects circumstances for a ship that was operating under a UN mandate to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea, nowhere near Chinese territorial waters.

“And my great fear is that an Australian, or a Canadian, or a Taiwanese, or a Japanese or an American service personnel will be killed,’

“Because of this kind of systemic, yet unprofessional conduct that we’re seeing going on.”

The British Air Force has encouraged Australia to release the footage of the incident.

Ryan said while the decision was one that the government, and not the military, would make, it was one that he also supported.

“Obviously, there’ll be a security implication for releasing those,” he said.

“The Government will look at the pros and cons.

“But I think there’s a strong case for releasing them but that would be the call of the defence minister of the day.”

It is not the first time China has attacked Australian pilots in this way.

In 2022, a PLA navy vessel shone a military-grade laser at a Royal Australian Air Force plane that was conducting coastal maritime surveillance within Australia’s exclusive economic zone in the Arafura Sea.

Last week’s flare attack is the second hostile act from the Chinese military since the Albanese Government’s claim to have “stabilised” the relationship with Beijing.

Last year, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese came under fire when it was revealed that the Chinese navy had attacked and injured Australian Navy divers serving on HMAS Toowoomba with sonar pulses, but that he had failed to raise the matter with Xi Jinping, despite meeting the Chinese President at the time at the APEC summit.

The opposition has also attacked the Prime Minister’s response to the flare incident as weak.

Albanese has said he had conveyed that Australia viewed the behaviour as unprofessional and unacceptable through channels in Beijing and Canberra.

And he said that, unlike the former government, his Government had reestablished communications with the Chinese. China stopped communicating with Australia when Scott Morrison was prime minister and the bilateral relationship plummeted to a nadir after Morrison called for an inquiry into COVID.

Albanese has not sought to speak to Xi directly, despite urgings from the coalition to “pick up the phone” to the Chinese leader.

Ryan said that while no one expected a massive retaliation from Australia, the government should have done more, including summoning the Chinese Ambassador.

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