Beijing dismissed on Saturday the Pentagon’s accusations that a Chinese fighter jet flew too close to a US military aircraft off Hainan Island, blaming “massive and frequent” surveillance for dangerous mid-air confrontations in state media.
US Rear Admiral John Kirby said on Friday the armed Chinese warplane came close to the P-8 Poseidon US surveillance aircraft three times, flying underneath the US plane, at the P-8’s nose and then in parallel with the wingtips, less than 9m apart.
In approaching the P-8 Poseidon, the Chinese jet at one point performed a barrel roll, apparently to display its weapons, in what Kirby called a “very dangerous” intercept.
Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesman Yang Yujun (楊宇軍) called the claims “totally groundless” in a statement cited by Xinhua news agency, lashing out at the US military for conducting surveillance operations close to Chinese waters.
Yang said the fighter jet pilot was a safe distance away and making regular checks on the surveillance aircraft during Tuesday’s confrontation in international waters about 220km east of Hainan Island.
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 this week has raised tensions and underlined the growing rivalry between the US and China, with Beijing building up its military and asserting its territorial claims across the Pacific.
The move also threatened to jeopardize longstanding US efforts to bolster relations with China’s military, at a time when officials have touted progress in forging a dialogue with Beijing’s top brass.
The skies over Hainan Island 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 collision left the Chinese pilot dead and forced the US plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan. Chinese authorities initially detained the 24-member US crew for more than a week, until both governments worked out a face-saving 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 the area is part of international waters and airspace.
China says it is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone.
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