US protests intercept by Chinese jets

AP, BEIJING

Sat, May 20, 2017 - Page 1

A pair of Chinese fighter jets conducted an “unprofessional” intercept of a US radiation-sniffing surveillance plane over the East China Sea, the US Air Force said yesterday, the latest in a series of such incidents that have raised US concerns in an already tense region.

The two Chinese SU-30 jets on Wednesday approached a US WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft conducting a routine mission in international airspace in accordance with international law, US Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge said in a statement.

The WC-135 crew said the intercept was unprofessional “due to the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft,” Hodge said.

She declined to provide further details and said the issue would be addressed with China through “appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

“We would rather discuss it privately with China,” Hodge said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “This will allow us to continue building confidence with our Chinese counterparts on expected maneuvering to avoid mishaps.”

China in 2013 declared an air defense identification zone over a large section of the East China Sea, a move the US called illegitimate and has refused to recognize.

It has demanded that foreign aircraft operating within the zone declare their intentions and follow Chinese instructions.

Hodge declined to say whether Wednesday’s incident was within the self-declared Chinese zone.

“US military aircraft routinely transit international airspace throughout the Pacific, including the East China Sea,” she said. “This flight was no exception.”

Although China says it respects freedom of navigation in the strategically vital area, it objects to US military activities, especially the collection of signals intelligence by US craft operating near the coast of its southern island province of Hainan, home to several military installations.