The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.”

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