A Chinese fighter jet has come within three metres (10 feet) of a US B-52 bomber while flying over the South China Sea, according to the United States military, as Beijing blames Washington for the incident.
The move almost caused an accident, said a US Indo-Pacific Command statement on Thursday evening, underscoring the potential for a mishap at a time when both countries are competing for influence in the region.
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In the night intercept, the Shenyang J-11 twin-engine fighter jet closed on the US plane at an “uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet of the B-52, putting both aircraft in danger of a collision”, the statement said.
“We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision,” the military added.
China’s foreign ministry put the blame on the US, suggesting Washington’s aircraft was flying over the South China Sea as a deliberate provocation.
“The US military planes travelled thousands of miles to China’s doorstep to flex muscle,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, Mao Ning.
“That is the source of maritime and air security risks, and is not conducive to regional peace and stability.”
The US military said in its statement that the aircraft was “lawfully conducting routine operations” ahead of the intercept on Tuesday, but did not make any comments on what the B-52 was doing over the South China Sea or whether it was with a group of planes.
After a similar incident in May, the Chinese government dismissed the US complaints and demanded that Washington end such flights over the South China Sea.
China has been increasingly assertive in advancing its claims on most of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, a position rejected by the US and other countries that use the vast expanse of ocean for shipping.
China’s claims have led to longstanding territorial disputes with other countries in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes.
A Chinese coastguard ship and an accompanying vessel last week rammed a Philippine coastguard ship and a military-run supply boat off a contested shoal in the waterway.
Following that incident, US President Joe Biden renewed a warning that the US would be obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, aircraft or vessels come under armed attack.
China reacted by saying the US has no right to interfere in Beijing’s disputes with Manila.
The US and its allies regularly conduct maritime manoeuvres in the South China Sea, and also routinely fly aircraft over the area to emphasise that the waters and airspace are international.
Aerial intercepts are common, with the US saying that there have been more than 180 such incidents since late 2021.
Source: News Agencies