On Tuesday, the U.S. military reported an incident involving an audacious maneuver by a Chinese fighter jet, which came dangerously close to a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the contested South China Sea. The American pilot was forced to navigate through the turbulence generated by the Chinese jet.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command shared that the Chinese J-16 fighter jet deliberately cut across the path of the RC-135, an American aircraft on a routine operation in international airspace last Friday. They described the action as a reckless display of aggression by the Chinese pilot.
Over the last five years, American defense authorities have voiced concerns about the escalating assertiveness of China’s military, with increased interceptions of U.S. aircraft and naval vessels in the region. These tensions have been further heightened by the U.S. offering military support and selling defensive weapons to Taiwan, China’s territorial claims over the South China Sea, and a suspected Chinese spy balloon over American territory.
Adding to the strained relations, China recently announced that its defense chief would not engage in a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at an upcoming security conference in Singapore. The Shangri-La Dialogue event is scheduled for the coming weekend, with Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu delivering speeches on separate days.
The Pentagon’s spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, mentioned China’s rejection of Austin’s proposed meeting during the conference. Ryder expressed concern over China’s seeming lack of interest in maintaining significant military dialogue but assured that the U.S. Defense Department remains committed to promoting open communication with the Chinese military.
In response to the incident, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning laid the blame on the U.S., urging it to respect China’s sovereignty, security interests, and concerns. Mao insisted that the U.S. rectify its mistakes and build a conducive atmosphere for dialogue between the two militaries.
Last summer, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted an uptick in intercepts by Chinese aircraft and ships in the Pacific region against U.S. and allied forces. He observed a similar increase in unsafe interactions.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command noted the routine challenges from China to the U.S. and allied military aircraft, particularly over the geopolitically significant South China Sea – a territory claimed entirely by China. A similar incident in 2001 resulted in a mid-air collision, leading to the loss of a Chinese plane and its pilot. The U.S. reiterated its commitment to operate safely and responsibly in accordance with international law, urging all nations to do the same.