US, China Military Aircraft Have “Unsafe, Close Encounter” Over Contested Islands
After years of ‘close encounters’ of the Russian-kind, it appears the US military has found a new nation to fly close to.
“It must be pointed out that U.S. military planes frequently carry out reconnaissance in Chinese coastal waters, seriously endangering Chinese maritime security,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei Hong told reporters, adding that “we demand that the United States immediately cease this type of close reconnaissance activity to avoid having this sort of incident happening again.”
CNN reports that two US defense officials confirmed that there was an “unsafe” close encounter between a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft and a Chinese surveillance aircraft Wednesday in the general vicinity of the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
One official said the Chinese plane was a People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200.
CNN reports the two planes flew within 1,000 feet of each other in the general vicinity of the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.
A second official said that the American P-3 had to alter course to ensure that there wasn’t an aerial collision.
A spokesperson for US Pacific Command, which oversees US troops in the region confirmed, the incident, calling it “unsafe” in a statement provided to CNN.
“The U.S. Navy P-3C was on a routine mission operating in accordance with international law,” Maj. Rob Shuford said.
“The Department of Defense and US Pacific Command are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces,” he added.
“We will address the issue in appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
While the Navy considers the encounter to be “unsafe,” it does not assess that any malign intent was behind the incident, though the event was considered serious enough to be raised up the chain of command.
The official called encounters between US and Chinese aircraft like the one that took place Wednesday “extremely rare,” noting that there were zero such incidents in 2015 and two in 2016. It was the first such instance of 2017.
We look forward to China’s official response tomorrow, especially considering President Trump’s positive outreach earlier today.