China’s defence ministry has accused the United States of violating international law and of “slander and hype” following a confrontation between a Chinese fighter jet and an American reconnaissance plane over the contested waters of the South China Sea.
The statement late on Saturday came days after the US military claimed that a Chinese J-11 fighter jet had come within 6 metres (20 feet) of a US RC-135 aircraft on December 21, forcing the latter to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision.
But Tian Julin, a spokesperson for China’s defence ministry, said the US Indo-Pacific Command had distorted facts about the incident and that it was the US aircraft that had engaged in “dangerous maneuvers” against the Chinese jet.
Tian said the US aircraft was conducting intentional close-in reconnaissance on China’s southern coastline when the People’s Liberation Army sent fighter jets to track and monitor the plane.
Despite multiple warnings from the Chinese side, the US aircraft suddenly altered its flight stance in a “dangerous approach movement, which seriously compromised the flight safety of the Chinese military aircraft,” he said.
The defence ministry also released a video of the incident, which it said showed the US aircraft manoeuvring towards the Chinese jet.
“The United States deliberately misleads public opinion … in an attempt to confuse the international audience,” Tian said.
“We solemnly request the US 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.”
China claims almost the entire South China Sea as its sovereign territory, but parts of it are contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Trillions of dollars in trade flow every year through the waterway, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas fields.
US military planes and ships routinely carry out surveillance operations and travel through the region, moves that China says are not good for peace.
Relations between the US and China have been tense, with friction rising between the world’s two largest economies over a range of issues, including Beijing’s human rights record and its claims over the self-ruled island of Taiwan.