Chinese jet's latest provocative maneuver rattles US recon aircraft and diplomatic relations

China has called U.S. reconnaissance operations over the South-China Sea "a serious danger to China's national security."
Baba Tamim
Representational image: China's fighter Shenyang J-16.
Representational image: China's fighter Shenyang J-16.

China's Ministry of National Defense 

The United States military has expressed concerns regarding a Chinese fighter jet's "unnecessarily aggressive maneuver" over the South China Sea. 

A Chinese J-16 aircraft and a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane were involved in an incident captured on camera by the U.S. military command in charge of the Indo-Pacific, demonstrating the Chinese pilot's risky behavior on May 26. 

"The PRC [People's Republic of China] pilot flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence," said a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command statement on Wednesday.

"The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law."

According to officials, the Chinese jet was 400 feet away from the American aircraft.

The U.S. military asserted that it would continue to fly in international airspace while assuring the safety of all vessels and planes.

China blames the U.S. recon mission

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a statement in response to the U.S. military's declaration, calling U.S. reconnaissance operations "a serious danger to China's national security." 

"The U.S.'s provocative and dangerous moves are the root cause of maritime security issues, said Liu Pengyu, spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Washington, denouncing the U.S.'s frequent "close-in reconnaissance on China."

"China urges the U.S. to stop such dangerous provocations and stop deflecting blame on China."

China emphasized its commitment to preserving its sovereignty and security while engaging with regional countries to keep the South China Sea peaceful and stable.

"China will continue to take necessary measures to resolutely defend its sovereignty and security and work with regional countries to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea," said Liu.

An invitation for Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu to meet with his American counterpart at the following Shangri-La Dialogue defense forum in Singapore was rejected, according to Beijing's foreign ministry, which caused tensions to worsen. 

According to the spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, the resumption of negotiations would require a favorable environment and circumstances.

Not the first dangerous jet maneuver

A senior U.S. defense source who spoke to the Associated Press under the condition of anonymity said the Pentagon does not think that Chinese pilots acting on their own are to blame for these occurrences. 

The newest intercept, according to the official, is actually part of a larger trend that has been observed in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and other places.

The official clarified that the timing of the U.S. disclosure of the incident over the South China Sea was not a reaction to China's refusal to meet in Singapore and that the reason for the delay in disclosing the incident was the requirement for diplomatic talks and the declassification procedure.

May 26's close jet maneuver is not the first such incident; in December 2022, a Chinese fighter jet flew within 20 feet of a U.S. reconnaissance plane.

Meanwhile, the event serves as a reminder of the ongoing military hostilities between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, emphasizing the importance of diplomatic measures to defuse the situation and open lines of dialogue.

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