Beijing on Aug 23 dismissed the Pentagon’s accusation that a Chinese fighter jet flew too close to a US military aircraft off Hainan Island. State media blamed “massive and frequent” surveillance for dangerous midair confrontations.
US Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Aug 22 that the armed Chinese warplane came close to the US surveillance aircraft three times, flying underneath it, at its nose and then in parallel, with wingtips less than nine meters apart.
In approaching the P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the Chinese jet at one point performed a barrel roll, apparently to display its weapons, Kirby said, calling the incident a “very dangerous” intercept.
China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun called the claims “totally groundless” in a statement cited by Xinhua News Agency, lashing out at the American military for conducting surveillance operations close to Chinese territory.
Yang said the fighter pilot was a safe distance away and making regular checks on the spy plane during Tuesday’s confrontation in what the United States said was international airspace about 220 kilometers east of Hainan.
It was the US and its “massive and frequent close-in surveillance of China” that endangered air and marine security, Xinhua quoted Yang as saying.
The episode has raised tensions and underlined the growing rivalry between the US and China as Beijing builds up its military.
Officials have recently touted progress in forging a dialogue among the top brass.
The skies near Hainan were the scene of a major international incident in April 2001, when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a US Navy EP-3 spy plane.
The Chinese pilot was killed and the US plane was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan. Chinese authorities detained the 24-member American crew for more than a week until both governments worked out a deal for their release.
Washington and Beijing have long disagreed over aviation and maritime rights in the strategic South China Sea, with the US insisting that the area encompasses international waters and airspace.
China argues it is part of the country’s “exclusive economic zone.”