US Military Accuses Chinese Fighter Jet of Conducting “Unsafe” Manoeuvre Near Surveillance Plane in South China Sea
The United States military has accused a Chinese fighter jet of conducting an “unsafe” manoeuvre near a US Air Force surveillance plane in the disputed South China Sea earlier this month. On December 21, a Chinese J-11 fighter pilot allegedly performed the intercept of the US aircraft, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command, which released video footage of the incident. The footage shows the Chinese jet flying within several meters of the nose of the larger surveillance plane, a manoeuvre that the US said required its pilot to take “evasive” action to avoid a collision.
The US military stated that the surveillance plane was operating “lawfully” and conducting routine operations in international airspace at the time of the incident. In a statement, it emphasized its commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” and stated that it will continue to “fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law.” The statement also called on “all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
This is not the first time that Chinese warplane pilots have been accused of flying dangerously close to aircraft in the region. In June, Canada accused China of harassing its planes, which were conducting United Nations sanctions patrols along the North Korean border. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the reports “extremely troubling” at the time. Australia also alleged that a Chinese fighter jet “dangerously” intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in May. The alleged encounters occurred on April 26 and May 26.
A US military spokesperson told The New York Times that the recent intercept by a Chinese jet occurred amid an “alarming increase in the number of unsafe aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea by [China’s] People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft and vessels.” The spokesperson added that the incident “reflects a concerning trend of unsafe and dangerous intercept practices by the PLA that are of grave concern to the United States.”
The incident took place just weeks after China accused a US missile cruiser of “illegally intruding” into waters near the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The US Navy denied the reports, calling the Chinese statement “false.” China has previously described US naval patrols of the Taiwan Strait as a “security risk.”
China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite a 2016 international court ruling that found Beijing’s claims had no merit. The US has also rejected China’s claims on the resource-rich waters. Nevertheless, China has continued to build artificial islands and establish a military presence in the disputed sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan also lay claim to portions of the South China Sea. In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that the South China Sea had been controlled by China “since ancient times,” although this claim is historically disputed.
Last week, China and Russia held joint naval exercises in the East China Sea in order to “deepen” their military partnership. The South China Sea incident and the joint exercises have added to tensions between the US and China, which have been strained by a range of issues including trade, human rights, and cybersecurity.