China is denying a Pentagon account that its jet fighters conducted a risky close-range interception of US war planes.
It’s criticizing Washington for deploying a US reconnaissance plane near Chinese territory, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that the Chinese jets maintained a “safe distance” while intercepting the US aircraft over the South China Sea on Tuesday.
Hong urged Washington to stop such “close-in reconnaissance activities”, saying they pose a security threat to China.
US defense officials earlier said the Pentagon is reviewing initial accounts that two Chinese J-11 fighters made an “unsafe” interception of a US Navy EP-3 spy plane in international airspace.
One official said the American pilot had dropped altitude out of concern after one of the Chinese jets closed the distance between the planes to about 50 feet.
The encounter comes as tensions escalate over the South China Sea, where Beijing has undertaken massive land reclamation around certain islands and atolls to better assert its sovereignty claim to nearly the entire sea.
Washington has been sending ships and planes near some of the Chinese-held islands to challenge those claims.
Such maneuvering over islands in the southern part of the South China Sea has compounded China’s irritation at periodic US surveillance flights in airspace close to the Chinese mainland.
Hong, the Chinese spokesman, said Tuesday’s encounter took place near the island province of Hainan, just off the mainland’s south coast.
Hainan is home to key Chinese air and naval installations, including a submarine base. In 2001, a collision between a Chinese jet fighter and a US EP-3 spy plane led to the death of the Chinese pilot and caused the American plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan, sparking a diplomatic incident.
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