Chinese Jets Intercept U.S. Military Plane in East China Sea

Updated on
  • U.S. Air Force says jets conducted ‘unprofessional’ maneuvers
  • Japan scrambles planes in separate incident involving drone

Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets intercepted an American military aircraft over the East China Sea on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Air Force.

“The interaction was considered unprofessional due to the maneuvers of the Chinese pilots and the speed,” Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge, spokesperson for Pacific Air Forces Command in Honolulu, said by phone Friday. She didn’t give further information on the exact maneuvers carried out by the Chinese jets.

U.S. military planes conduct frequent flights near Chinese territory and they can cause “miscalculations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a news briefing. China needs to do more research on the incident, Hua said. 

The U.S. Air Force is discussing the event via the military maritime consultative agreement meeting and diplomatic channels, Hodge said. CNN reported earlier that the jets came within 150 feet of a U.S. Air Force plane flying over the Yellow Sea, with one of the fighters flying upside down directly over the American plane.

The U.S. and Chinese militaries have taken steps to reduce tense encounters between warships and fighter jets in recent years even as they disagree over where they can operate. The U.S. opposes China’s territorial claims in the region, and routinely asserts its right to fly or sail in areas it considers international seas or airspace.

The intercepted aircraft was a WC-135, which is designed to collect information on radiation in the atmosphere to detect nuclear explosions. Both China and the U.S. have been in talks about ways to curb the nuclear weapons development program in North Korea, which is in the vicinity.

In February, the U.S.’s Pacific Command reported an “unsafe” encounter between surveillance planes from the two sides near the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Chinese state media said the Chinese pilots took legitimate and professional measures.

Japan Scrambles

In a separate incident, Japan scrambled jets on Thursday in response to a drone accompanying a Chinese ship near disputed islands in the East China Sea.

The Japanese coast guard observed what appeared to be a drone flying close to a Chinese vessel that was sailing in Japanese territorial waters, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said on Friday. After receiving an alert from the coast guard, two F-15 fighter jets, one E-2C plane and one AWACS aircraft were dispatched to the area above the Senkaku Islands, she said, according to the ministry’s website.

“If a ship entering our waters also flies a drone into our airspace, this further escalates the situation and it is absolutely unacceptable,” Inada said. “This incident is an extremely serious breach of our country’s sovereignty.”

Hua said the drone was owned by a media organization, not Chinese authorities.

— With assistance by Isabel Reynolds, and David Ramli

(Updates with China reaction in third paragraph, Japan incident from eighth.)
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