US claims ‘unprofessional intercept’ by Chinese fighter jet

The aircraft buzzed an American reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea, Washington has alleged

An American spy plane flying in international airspace above the South China Sea had a close encounter with a Chinese fighter jet last week in what US officials have claimed was an “unprofessional intercept.”

A Chinese pilot carried out an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver, flying his J-16 fighter just in front of the nose of a US RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft, the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) alleged on Tuesday. The command posted a video clip of the incident, purporting to show the J-16 passing in front of the US plane and causing the RC-135’s cockpit to shake in the turbulence of its wake.

“The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” INDOPACOM said. “The United States will continue to fly, sale and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international law allows.” The statement added that US forces  will continue to fly “with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law. We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”

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China accuses US of ‘slander and hype’ over air incident

Chinese officials didn’t immediately comment on the incident or the US statement. Beijing has bristled at Washington’s claims over similar incidents in the past, accusing US forces of provocations and infringing China’s sovereignty. The Chinese Defense Ministry accused American officials of “pure slander and hype” over an incident last December in which a Chinese fighter jet allegedly buzzed within six meters of a US Air Force RC-135. Both sides blamed the near collision on the other.

The latest controversy comes amid rising tensions between the US and China. Chinese officials cut off defense and climate ties with the US last August, citing provocations in the Taiwan Strait, and President Joe Biden’s administration shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina in February. Just this week, China rejected a request for a meeting between the US and Chinese defense ministers when both men are scheduled to be in Singapore for a security conference in June.

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