Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy aircraft that was flying in a “routine patrol” over the South China Sea on Wednesday, a Defence Department spokesman said in a written statement.
“Two tactical aircraft from the People’s Republic of China” intercepted the plane, said Lt. Col. Michelle Baldanza, according to NBC. “Initial reports characterised the incident as unsafe.”
The J-11 Chinese fighter jets apparently flew roughly 50 feet from the US plane, a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft.
China has asserted territorial claims over the South China Sea, which has large oil and natural gas deposits and has also been claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Washington has not recognised China’s claims to the waters, and has accused Beijing, which is allegedly building islands there, of “militarizing” the area. China has created over 3,000 acres of land in the Spratly Islands, around which the US has conducted “freedom of navigation” patrols that have irritated China.
“Our long-standing position is unchanged – we do not take a position on competing sovereignty claims to naturally formed land features in the South China Sea,” a senior Obama administration official said last month.
“We routinely conduct such operations throughout the world to challenge maritime claims that would unlawfully restrict rights and freedoms provided in international law. This applies to the South China Sea as well,” the official added.
Xi Jingping, China’s president, told Barack Obama in April that China considers the patrols to be a violation of Chinese sovereignty — a point reiterated later by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in an interview with Reuters.
“China consistently respects and supports the freedom of navigation and fly over that all countries’ enjoy in the South China Sea under international law,” Hong said, “but resolutely opposes any country using so-called ‘freedom of navigation’ as an excuse to damage China’s sovereignty, security and maritime rights.”
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