U.S. and Chinese spy planes recently got dangerously close to one another in the disputed South China Sea.
A U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft and a Chinese military surveillance aircraft came within 1,000 feet of one another near the contested Scarborough Shoal Wednesday, a U.S. official revealed to Reuters Thursday.
U.S. Pacific Command confirmed the incident.
U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Major Rob Shuford described the incident in the South China Sea as “unsafe,” while another official noted that the U.S. aircraft had to alter course to avoid colliding with the Chinese aircraft.
“The U.S. Navy P-3C was on a routine mission operating in accordance with international law,” Shuford added.
Although China has carried out provocative interceptions in the past, the U.S. Navy has yet to identify “malign intent” from the Chinese. The Chinese aircraft was a Shaanxi KJ-200 aerial early warning and control aircraft, not a fighter jet. China usually deploys its Shenyang J-11 and Chengdu J-10 fighters for interceptions.
Two interceptions occurred last year, one in the South China Sea and one in the East China Sea. In the latter case, a Chinese J-10 fighter came within 100 feet of a U.S. Navy RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
While the incident may have been inadvertent, the issue will still be raised up the chain of command and investigated further.
“The Department of Defense and U.S. Pacific Command are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces,” Shuford explained. “We will address the issue in appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
The Chinese version of the Global Times, citing Chinese defense officials, reported that the Chinese pilot acted in a “legal and professional manner.”
“We hope the U.S. side keeps in mind the present condition of relations between the two countries and militaries, adopts practical measures, and eliminates the origin of air and sea mishaps between the two countries,” defense officials told the paper.
The Chinese foreign ministry has yet to comment on the incident.
As military equipment is presently piling up in the South China Sea, it is unclear if this incident is a test of the new administration or a simple accident.
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