The Netherlands has taken a swipe at China after a pair of Xi Jinping’s fighter jets circling Dutch naval craft “several times” led to a “potentially unsafe situation” in the East China Sea.

Jets from China’s air force had circled a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Tromp, and one of its helicopters while it was on patrol.

The Chinese aircraft had left the area, but then later returned alongside a helicopter of their own to harangue the Netherlands’ chopper in international airspace, according to the Dutch defence ministry.

The ministry said Tromp had been patrolling in support of UN sanctions against North Korea when the confrontation took place.

HNLMS Tromp/Xi Jinping

Chinese air force jets had circled a Dutch frigate, HNLMS Tromp, and one of its helicopters

Reuters/Ministerie van Defensie

But after Dutch authorities released a public statement on the incident, Chinese officials reacted with fury.

A statement from China’s defence ministry said: “We strongly deplore the heinous nature of the Dutch side’s words and deeds, and have lodged solemn representations with them.”

Zhang Xiaogang, a spokesperson for the ministry said the Dutch side was “falsely claiming to be carrying out a UN mission and flexed its force in the sea and airspace under the jurisdiction of another country, creating tension and undermining the friendly relations between the two countries.”

Zhang added that China wanted to warn the Dutch that “infringement and provocation will be resolutely countered by the Chinese side.”


Chinese helicopter/Chinese jet

The Dutch defence ministry released photos of the Chinese aircraft online

X/Ministerie van Defensie

The Dutch frigate has since left the area as it sails to Japan and Hawaii for naval drills in the Pacific alongside Western and regional allies as part of the “Valiant Shield 2024” exercise.

The US Navy’s Admiral Stephen T Koehler has called VS24 a “unique opportunity to operate and engage with our allies and partners and to demonstrate our shared commitment to global security and stability”.

Koehler, who commands the American Pacific Fleet, added: “It takes all of us to maintain a safe, stable, and secure Indo-Pacific, as we flex our joint and combined capabilities to advance multi-domain operations.”

And the Netherlands’ complaint against China is one of a growing list of qualms raised by Western vessels and aircraft in the region.

In May, China was accused of setting off flares in the path of an Australian helicopter – which was also engaged in enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea – over international waters in the Yellow Sea.

And Canadian craft have also lodged complaints against China for performing “unsafe” manouevres – which China has shrugged off as necessary in order to defend itself from Canada’s unspecified “malicious and provocative act with ulterior motives”.

The US State Department has talked up its country’s efforts in “preserving peace, upholding freedom of the seas in line with international law, maintaining the unimpeded flow of lawful commerce, and supporting peaceful settlement of disputes”.

But Chinese military sources have long accused the United States of “creating division and provoking confrontation” in the region.