Two Chinese fighter jets buzzed a US navy surveillance plane over the South China Sea on Wednesday, with one coming within 180 metres (200 yards) of the American aircraft, according to US officials.
The officials said initial reports showed that the US P-3 Orion surveillance plane was 150 miles (240km) south-east of Hong Kong in international airspace when the Chinese aircraft carried out the “unsafe” intercept. One Chinese aircraft flew in front of the American plane, restricting its ability to manoeuvre.
“We continue to review the facts of this incident and will convey our concerns through appropriate channels with the Chinese government,” said Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross.
China’s defence ministry said on Sunday that the US account of the interception was inaccurate. It argued the jets flew in a professional and safe manner, and chastised the US military to avoid risky encounters and respect the Chinese military’s resolve to protect the country’s sovereignty and security.
China is deeply suspicious of any US military activity around its coastline, especially in the resource-rich South China Sea, parts of which are disputed by China and its smaller neighbours including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
A US navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles (22km) of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, US officials said on Wednesday, in the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since Donald Trump became president.
Incidents such as Wednesday’s interception are not uncommon. Earlier in May two Chinese SU-30 aircraft intercepted a US aircraft designed to detect radiation while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea.