A Chinese fighter jet came within 20 feet of a U.S. air force plane in the contested South China Sea last week and forced it to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a fatal collision in international airspace, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
The close encounter followed what the United States has called a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by Chinese military aircraft.
The incident, which involved a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a U.S. air force RC-135 aircraft, took place on Dec. 21, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The video shows the J-11 flying close, almost alongside the RC-135, as the Chinese jet gets closer, the American pilot is forced to rapidly descend away from the other plane.
A U.S. military spokesperson said the Chinese jet 20 feet from the plane’s nose, which caused the U.S. aircraft to take evasive maneuvers.
The United States has raised the issue with the Chinese government, a separate U.S. official said. The pilots involved in the intercept have not been identified. Neither were harmed.
The statement read in part: ‘We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.’
A military source told the New York Times that officials waited eight days before releasing the information because a ‘disclosure of this type takes time to verify details, obtain and declassify imagery and make proper notifications to other government agencies.’
The incident, which involved a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet, shown here, and a U.S. air force RC-135 aircraft, took place on Dec. 21
The image depicts the moment when they US RC-135 begins to descend away from the Chinese jet
The RC-135 is a large reconnaissance aircraft built by Boeing and modified by a number of companies
The Times report also notes that that on December 22, the day after the intercept, the US Indo-Pacific Command issued a statement in which they said that they were ‘closely tracking’ Chinese activity in the South and East China Seas as well as the Philippine Sea.
The Chinese embassy in Washington DC has yet to issue a statement on the incident. In the past, China has said that the United States sending ships and aircraft into the South China Sea is not good for peace.
U.S. military planes and ships routinely carry out surveillance operations and travel through the region.
China claims vast swathes of the South China Sea that overlap with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Relations between China and the United States have been tense, with friction between the world’s two largest economies over everything from Taiwan and China’s human rights record to its military activity in the South China Sea.
In October, the Department of Defense’s national defense strategy report identified the Chinese Communist Party as presenting the ‘most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security.’
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks next to Legislative Yuan Vice President Tsai Chi-chang as she leaves the parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, in August
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August infuriated China, which saw it as a U.S. attempt to interfere in its internal affairs. China subsequently launched military drills near the island.
The United States has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan but is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
Australia’s defense department said in June that a Chinese fighter aircraft dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region in May.
Australia said the Chinese jet flew close in front of the RAAF aircraft and released a ‘bundle of chaff’ containing small pieces of aluminum that were ingested into the Australian aircraft’s engine.
In response to that incident, Senior Col. Tan Kefei of the Chinese Defense Ministry said that Australia had ‘seriously threatened China’s sovereignty and security.’
The colonel continued: ‘It is the Australia side that confuses black and white, repeatedly disseminates false information and instigates the hostility and confrontation.’
In June, Canada’s military accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its patrol aircraft as they monitored North Korea sanction evasions, sometimes forcing Canadian planes to divert from their flight paths.