CHINESE JET THREATENED U.S. INTEL JET
A Chinese fighter jet conducted an unsafe intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the East China Sea this week in the latest showdown between China and the United States over the American military presence in the region, U.S. officials said.
The incident Tuesday took place over the East China Sea and the Pentagon in its statement avoided criticizing the Chinese military for flying one of its warplanes dangerously close to a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
“U.S. Pacific Command has reviewed the details of an intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, a U.S. Air Force RC-135, on a routine patrol by two Chinese jets, J-10s, that occurred on June 7 in international airspace, over the East China Sea,” said Cmdr. David Benham, spokesman for the command.
“One of the intercepting Chinese jets had an unsafe excessive rate of closure on the RC-135 aircraft,” he said. “Initial assessment is that this seems to be a case of improper airmanship, as no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers occurred.”
Cmdr. Benham said the Pentagon is “addressing the issue with China in appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
China, as it has done in the past, denied its pilot acted recklessly.
“The U.S. once again is deliberately hyping this issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters in Beijing. “The relevant Chinese military personnel have always acted professionally and in accordance with law.”
Mr. Hong also repeated demands that the Pentagon halt all “close surveillance activity against China ... to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”
The air and sea encounters are part of what defense analysts say is a Beijing strategy to drive the U.S. military, a force for peace and stability in the region for decades, out of Asia.
As in the South China Sea, where the United States is backing neighboring states against China’s expansive maritime claims to some 80 percent of the sea, the East China Sea has seen showdowns in the past between China and Japan over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, that China claims as its territory. The Pentagon has said any Chinese military move against the Senkakus would trigger American involvement under the U.S.-Japan Defense Mutual Treaty.
Tuesday’s encounter followed a similar dangerous intercept over the South China Sea May 19, when a Chinese J-11 flew with 50 feet of an EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft near Hainan Island, causing the EP-3 pilot to make a sharp maneuver to avoid a collision. The recent encounters appear to undermine the 2014 memorandum of understanding between China and the United States to take steps to avoid such dangerous aerial encounters.
The memorandum outlines detailed procedures for naval encounters between U.S. and Chinese warships but does not contain similar guidelines for aerial encounters. The Pentagon has been trying to reach a formal agreement with China on aerial encounters, but Beijing is demanding that the United States end all aerial surveillance activities near Chinese coasts, something the Defense Department so far has refused to do.
As a result, Chinese jets continue to harass U.S. surveillance planes in Asia and defense officials have said the lack of a vigorous response is encouraging further dangerous intercepts.
On Sept. 15, an RC-135 was intercepted unsafely by a Chinese jet in the Yellow Sea. An August 2014 encounter involved a Chinese J-11 conducting a risky barrel-roll maneuver over a U.S. P-8 maritime patrol aircraft flying over the South China Sea.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the Pacific Command, told a Singapore defense conference last weekend that China has engaged in “positive behavior” in the last several months, and only “now and then” will carry out an unsafe military activity.
Adm. Harris said he favors cooperating with China “in all domains” as much as possible, “but we have to confront them if we must.”