China has blamed a US “provocation” for an incident in which a Chinese plane crossed in front of an American surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea.
“The United States’ long-term and frequent sending of ships and planes to conduct close surveillance on China seriously harms China’s national sovereignty and security,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Wednesday.
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“This kind of provocative, dangerous activity is the cause of the security issues on the seas. China will continue to take all necessary steps to resolutely protect its own sovereignty and security,” Mao said.
The US military said on Tuesday a Chinese fighter pilot performed an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” near an American surveillance aircraft operating over the South China Sea last week.
Video footage released by the US military shows a Chinese fighter jet crossing in front of the American aircraft, which can be seen shaking from the resulting turbulence.
The Chinese plane “flew directly in front of and within 400 feet [122 metres] of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the US aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence” on Friday, the Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.
“The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” it added.
The incident comes at a time of frayed ties between Washington and Beijing over issues including Taiwan, which China regards as its territory, and the shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US this year.
— U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (@INDOPACOM) May 30, 2023
‘Risky aerial intercepts’
The Pentagon said the incident was part of a pattern by China.
A senior US defence official said there has been an “alarming increase in the number of risky aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea” by Chinese aircraft and ships – actions that “have the potential to create an unsafe incident or miscalculation”.
The announcement came a day after China refused a US invitation for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to meet his Chinese counterpart in Singapore this week.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called on Beijing to agree to greater communication after the fighter jet incident.
“I think it only underscores why it is so important that we have regular, open lines of communication including, by the way, between our defence ministers,” Blinken told reporters on a visit to Sweden.
Beijing said the US was “entirely responsible for the current difficulties in exchanges between the two militaries”.
“On the one hand, the United States keeps saying that it wants to strengthen communication,” Chinese defence ministry spokesman Tan Kefei said on Wednesday. “But on the other hand, it ignores China’s concerns and artificially creates obstacles, seriously undermining mutual trust between the two militaries.”
Austin and other US officials have been working to shore up alliances and partnerships in Asia as part of efforts to counter what they have said are increasingly assertive moves by Beijing. But there have also been tentative signs the two sides are working to lower the temperature.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi met in Vienna earlier this month, and President Joe Biden said later that ties between Washington and Beijing should thaw “very soon”.
With its People’s Liberation Army as the world’s largest standing military, which answers directly to the governing Communist Party, China frequently challenges military aircraft from the US and its allies in the South and East China Seas, and the Taiwan Strait connecting the two.
Such behaviour led to a 2001 in-air collision between a Chinese fighter and US Navy surveillance plane in which the Chinese plane was lost and pilot killed.