Military tensions heightened between China and the United States as the Obama Administration looks to clamp down on Beijing’s influence along the Pacific Rim.
On Thursday, China’s defense ministry asserted that it acted within the rules of engagement after American officials criticized Beijing for a “provocative” and “unsafe” intercept of a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea last week.
A Pentagon spokesperson alleged that two Chinese fighter jets undertook an illegal intercept of an American spy plane during “a routine US patrol” over international airspace, heightening the risk of military miscalculation in the hotly contested region. The Chinese J-11 fighter jets flew within 50 feet (15 meters) of the US EP-3 aircraft, just east of Hainan Island.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Yang Yujan took exception to the recounting of events, telling a monthly news briefing that the Chinese fighter pilots acted professionally and in line with international rules.
The Chinese spokesman also said that future incidents could best be avoided if the US would restrain from surveillance flights near Chinese territorial waters. “That’s the real source of danger for Sino-US military safety at sea and in the air,” he said.
The encounter was triggered when a US Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef, causing Beijing to scramble fighter jets to prevent an encroachment.