Chinese fighter jet intercepts US spy plane with ‘unsafe maneuver’, US Defense Department says


A Chinese fighter jet intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea last week and performed an “unsafe maneuver,” forcing the U.S. plane to take evasive action, according to the Indo-Pacific Command, the command responsible for overseeing U.S. military operations in the region.

On December 21, a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet flew within 20 feet of the nose of an RC-135 Rivet Joint, a US Air Force reconnaissance aircraft with about 30 people on board. In response, the RC-135 had to take “evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision,” INDOPACOM said in a statement on Thursday.

The RC-135 was in international airspace over the South China Sea and was “lawfully conducting routine operations,” INDOPACOM said.

INDOPACOM video of the incident shows the J-11 taking off from the nose of the RC-135. As the two planes approached, a defense official said it was “unlikely” that the Chinese plane was able to maintain safe visual separation from the larger, heavier American plane, which was maintaining its course and speed. The RC-135 then took evasive action to avoid a collision, descending away from the Chinese aircraft.

The majority of aircraft interactions, including those between the US and China, are conducted in a safe and professional manner, the official said. But in cases like this incident, when they are found to be unsafe, the US responds through diplomatic and military channels through lines of communication with Beijing.

“In this case, we intend to do so,” the official said.

China claims much of the South China Sea as part of its territorial waters, including many of the islands in the disputed watershed, some of which Beijing has militarized.

The US does not recognize these territorial claims and routinely conducts operations there, including freedom of navigation operations through the South China Sea.

“The US Joint Indo-Pacific Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law, ” the statement said.

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