HONG KONG — A Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to a US Air Force plane conducting routine operations over the disputed South China Sea last week, the US military said Thursday, forcing the US aircraft to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.
The incident reflects what the United States calls a worrying trend of unsafe interception practices by the Chinese military.
The US Air Force RC-135 aircraft was in international airspace on December 21 when it was intercepted by a Chinese navy J-11 fighter jet, the US Indo-Pacific Command said. USA in a statement. The Chinese plane came to within 10 feet of the RC-135’s wing and then veered 20 feet from its nose as the US plane maintained its course and speed, leading it to take evasive maneuvers.
“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the command said.
A command spokesman said the United States would respond through the appropriate channels.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Thursday that the United States had long endangered China’s national security with its air and naval reconnaissance in the region and that Beijing would continue to take «necessary measures.» .
«The provocative and dangerous actions of the US are the main cause of maritime security problems,» he told a regular press conference.
China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, where it has territorial disputes with Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and others. In recent years, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been increasingly assertive in the area, which has some of the busiest commercial shipping lanes in the world.
At a regional defense summit in Singapore in June, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said there had been «an alarming increase in the number of unsafe air interceptions and confrontations at sea by PLA aircraft and vessels.»
Australia said a Chinese fighter pilot intercepted one of its military surveillance planes over the South China Sea in May, releasing chaff that entered the plane’s engine.
The following month, Canada accused the Chinese military of forcing Royal Canadian Air Force planes off their flight paths during United Nations-sanctioned operations to monitor North Korea’s evasion of sanctions.
Such incidents raise concerns of another fatal collision like the one in 2001, when China held 24 crew members of a US Navy spy plane for 10 days after it collided with a nearby Chinese fighter jet. from the island province of Hainan, killing the pilot.
Austin also raised the issue in a November meeting with Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe. The two men agreed at that meeting to improve channels of military communication between the United States and China that were suspended after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi angered China with her August visit to Taiwan, a self-governing island that Beijing claims it as its own territory. China sees such visits as a de facto recognition of Taiwan’s independence.
At a press conference on Thursday, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said China attaches great importance to its military relationship with the United States and working-level communication between the two militaries has not been interrupted.
“However, the United States cannot try to fully resume dialogue and exchanges with China while continually harming China’s interests,” he said.
China has intensified its raids on Taiwan’s air defense identification zone since Pelosi’s visit, sending a record 71 fighter jets toward the island in a single 24-hour period this week after President Joe Biden signed a defense spending bill that increased US military support for Taiwan.
Separately, Japanese officials confirmed this week that there was a rare sighting of China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier group near Guam, a US territory that has two military bases. The Global Times, a state-backed Chinese nationalist tabloid, said thursday that the move «demonstrated that the Chinese aircraft carrier is ready to defend the country against possible US attacks launched from there, including attempts at military interference on the Taiwan issue.»
In an email Friday, Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lt. Kristina Wiedemann said the US Navy’s 7th Fleet closely monitors all vessels in its area of operations, which includes Guam, «to ensure the security and stability of the region.»
Jennifer Jett reported from Hong Kong and Mosheh Gains reported from Washington.
Jace Zhang Y hannah lee contributed.