Ely Ratner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs: “This is really dangerous behavior that I would liken to driving with road rage in a school zone.”
U.S. military officials confirmed that a Chinese military plane came within 20 feet of a U.S. Air Force aircraft in the South China Sea last week and forced it to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision in international airspace.
The close encounter followed what the United States has called a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by Chinese military aircraft.
The incident, which involved a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a U.S. air force RC-135 aircraft, took place on Dec. 21, the U.S. military said in a statement.
“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” it added.
But the Chinese claim the U.S. is distorting the information to the public:
But Tian Junli, spokesman for China’s Southern Theatre Command, said in a statement late on Saturday that the United States had misled the public about the incident near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.
He said the U.S. plane violated international law, disregarded repeated warnings by China and made dangerous approaches that threatened the safety of China’s aircraft.
“The United States deliberately misleads public opinion… in an attempt to confuse the international audience,” Tian said.
“We solemnly request the U.S. side to restrain the actions of frontline naval and air forces, strictly abide by related international laws and agreements, and prevent accidents in the sea and the air.”
US Indo-Pacific Command reported that the incident occurred on December 21 when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy J-11 flew in front of the USAF’s large reconnaissance plane.
The US plane was “lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace,” the statement said. Its pilot was forced to “take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision”.
China frequently challenges military aircraft from the US and its allies, especially over the strategically vital South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety. Such behaviour led to a 2001 in-air collision in which a Chinese plane was lost and pilot killed.
….China resents the presence of US military assets in the South China Sea and regularly demands its ships and planes leave the area. The US says it is fully entitled to operate in and over the South China Sea and ignores the Chinese demands.
Such dangerous incidents persist despite US-China agreements on how to deal with unexpected encounters.
US officials also note that they have seen an upswing in the number of aggressive intercepts of US and allied forces made by the Chinese military.
In June, Canada said Chinese pilots were performing risky intercepts of Canadian planes operating from Japan and Australia said a Chinese fighter jet cut in front of an Australian surveillance aircraft and released chaff that entered its engine.
Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said in July that over the last five years the number of “unsafe” intercepts by Chinese jets had dramatically increased, including dozens of incidents just in 2022.
“This is really dangerous behavior that I would liken to driving with road rage in a school zone,” Ratner said of the intercepts during an event this month. “It is tempting a crisis that could have geopolitical and geoeconomic implications.”
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