A new safety memorandum regarding encounters between U.S. and Chinese military aircraft has a blunt demand for each country’s pilots: stop flipping each other off.
“Military aircrew should refrain from the use of uncivil language or unfriendly physical gestures,” an amendment to the memorandum states, according to The Associated Press. The advice may seem rather silly, but it’s actually quite serious. Overly aggressive gestures can escalate into violent action, which can lead to increased tension or even war between the two countries.
Pilot bravado has led to major tensions between the U.S. and China in the past. In 2001, a Chinese fighter and American signal aircraft flew so close together they collided, killing the Chinese pilot and leading to the capture and internment of the 24-man American crew until the U.S. apologized for the incident. That crash occurred after the Chinese pilot flew so close that the Americans were able to see his email address written on a sheet of paper.
U.S. and Chinese craft are coming close to one another more and more frequently now, as both countries are increasing their presence in the disputed South China Sea and East China Sea regions. In 2013, China declared an exclusive air zone in the East China Zone beyond its territorial waters, but both Japan and the U.S. defied it by sending aircraft through with impunity.
In 2014, a Chinese fighter came within 30 feet of a U.S. spy plane flying near its territory, and just a month ago two Chinese fighters made what was called an “unsafe interception” of another spy plane that was flying over the ocean space between China and Korea. The new amendment was put together following this most recent incident, just before Chinese President Xi Jinping visited America.
The new agreement will discourage pilots from engaging in aggressive conduct when they encounter one another, while also allowing each country to say that any violations of the agreement result from pilots defying official policy.
The new agreement comes one year after a similar agreement last year, the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which was reached between the U.S., China, and more than a dozen other countries.
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