Chinese Warplanes ‘Threaten’ Dutch Warship In East China Sea; Comes After Taiwan Strait Voyage

In a concerning escalation of tensions, a Netherlands warship was approached by Chinese fighter jets and a helicopter in the East China Sea, leading to what the Netherlands Ministry of Defense described as a potentially “unsafe situation”. 

According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Defense on June 7, the incident involved two Chinese fighter jets circling the Dutch naval ship HNLMS Tromp several times.

During the patrol, two Chinese fighter jets and a helicopter approached the ship’s NH90 maritime combat helicopter, heightening the tension. This incident took place in international airspace.

The Ministry of Defense revealed that HNLMS Tromp was conducting patrols in the East China Sea as part of a multinational UN coalition. The coalition is tasked with enforcing maritime sanctions against North Korea, as stipulated by the UN Security Council resolutions.

Photos released by the Ministry indicated that the Chinese aircraft involved were a Z-19 light recon/attack helicopter and JH-7 fighter bombers.

Reacting to the incident, Ruben Brekelmans, a Member of Parliament in the Netherlands, expressed his concern on X (formerly Twitter): “China now also intimidates our Dutch naval ship in international waters and airspace. Such a dangerous situation should not be accepted and requires a critical diplomatic response. It is important that the Netherlands does not allow itself to be intimidated and stands for free shipping!”

The incident follows the Dutch vessel’s contentious passage through the Taiwan Strait last week, which drew China’s ire.

The Chinese foreign ministry said that while it accepts international law, it is “firmly opposed to endangering Chinese sovereignty and security under the guise of free passage.”

The Taiwan Strait passage remains a sensitive issue, as China claims sovereignty over the waters despite international law recognizing it as international waters. American warships frequently traverse the strait to assert this principle.

The HNLMS Tromp is on a six-month global deployment and is en route to Japan to participate in the large-scale military exercise “Pacific Archer ’24” in Hawaii. Despite the latest incident, the Dutch Ministry of Defense confirmed that the ship continues its journey as planned.

Chengdu J-7
File Image: Chengdu J-7

China’s Growing Aggression In The region

The incident marks the most recent in a series of confrontations occurring in international waters involving China’s military and other nations.

In May 2024, Australia accused a Chinese fighter jet of deploying flares in the vicinity of an Australian MH-60R Seahawk helicopter over the international waters of the Yellow Sea.

During the incident, the helicopter was patrolling to enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea. The Chinese jet released flares approximately 300 meters in front of the Seahawk helicopter and about 60 meters above it.

Although no injuries or damages were reported, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese condemned the incident as “completely unacceptable.”

China typically justifies its actions by alleging that US and allied warships and aircraft deliberately approach Chinese airspace under the guise of implementing United Nations Security Council resolutions, thereby posing a threat to China’s maritime and air security.

Seaman Dorsey Cadette, left, of the guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, points out a smoke signal during man-overboard training in the South China Sea, July 10, 2017. (Ryan Harper/U.S. Navy)

In late October, a Chinese fighter jet fired flares in the direction of a Canadian military helicopter over the South China Sea. Major Rob Millen, an air officer aboard the Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Ottawa, characterized the act as “unsafe and non-standard, unprofessional”.

Following the October incident, China defended its actions and accused Canadian forces of engaging in “malicious and provocative acts with ulterior motives”.

Australia, specifically, has encountered numerous assertive actions from China. In a November 2023 incident near Japan, a Chinese warship employed sonar waves to disturb Australian Navy divers, leading to minor injuries.

In June 2022, a Chinese fighter jet deployed flares and chaff that entered the engine of an Australian P-8A aircraft while it was flying in international waters over the South China Sea.

In February 2022, Australia documented a separate occurrence in which a Chinese warship employed a laser to illuminate an Australian P-8A aircraft north of Australia.

Pilots subjected to laser attacks have experienced disorientation, discomfort, and temporary loss of vision. Nonetheless, China has persistently refuted any allegations of misconduct, maintaining that its military actions adhere to international law and serve to protect Chinese interests.

In recent months, Philippine Coast Guard vessels have experienced hazardous maneuvers and obstruction from Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia vessels. In some instances, water cannons from Chinese Coast Guard vessels have damaged Philippine ships.