By Alex Willemyns
A Chinese J-16 fighter jet last week carried out “an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” near an American reconnaissance plane that was flying above the South China Sea, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.
The incident, which occurred Friday, follows a near collision of Chinese and American jets late last year over the same contested waters.
A video released by the U.S. military shows the Chinese fighter jet approaching the American plane at a high altitude before turning sharply, veering away suddenly and disappearing in the distance. The cockpit of the American plane appears to shudder as the Chinese jet passes.
The pilot of the Chinese jet “flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement, vowing to continue flying above the waters Beijing claims as sovereign territory.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate – safely and responsibly – wherever international law allows, and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” it said. “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, attributed the incident to “close-in reconnaissance on China” conducted by U.S. forces, which he said “poses a serious danger to China’s national security.”
“The US’s provocative and dangerous moves are the root cause of maritime security issues,” Liu told Radio Free Asia in an email. “China urges the US to stop such dangerous provocations, and stop deflecting blame on China.”
Beijing claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea despite a 2016 ruling in a case brought by the Philippines at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected China’s expansive claims.
Six other Asian governments have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. They are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of that sea overlapping Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.
The United States is officially neutral in the dispute but rejects China’s vast claim and has called for sovereignty claims to be resolved peacefully. U.S. forces also frequently carry out “freedom of navigation” operations through international waters in the sea, which includes shipping lanes in the South China Sea through which more than $5 trillion of goods pass each year.