Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber over the South China Sea this week in a nighttime maneuver that nearly caused a collision, the United States military said on Thursday.

The pilot of the J-11 jet that drew close to the B-52 in international airspace on Tuesday night “flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner” and with “uncontrolled excessive speed,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.

The U.S. military also released a grainy, black-and-white video that it said showed the encounter. The midair clip, apparently filmed from the bomber, appears to show the jet drawing perilously close. The New York Times has not independently verified the video.

The statement and video were released on the same day that China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, arrived in the United States for meetings with U.S. officials — including Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser — and at a time of tension between the two countries over national security, economic competition and other issues.

Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Friday that “U.S. military planes have traveled thousands of miles to show off their force at China’s doorstep, which is the root cause of sea and air security risks.”

“It is also not conducive to regional peace and stability,” she added, speaking at a regular news briefing in Beijing. “China will continue to take resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty security and territorial integrity.”

Chinese officials have previously depicted Chinese air intercepts of U.S. aircraft as reasonable responses to foreign military patrols that threaten the country’s security.

In June, China’s defense minister at the time, Gen. Li Shangfu, downplayed an episode in which an American naval destroyer slowed to avoid a possible collision with a Chinese Navy ship that had crossed its path as it moved through the strait between China and Taiwan, the self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own.

Speaking at a conference in Singapore, General Li said in June that the best way to avoid an accident was for countries outside the region, like the United States, to leave and “mind your own business.”

But the Indo-Pacific Command’s statement on Thursday said that the latest near miss was part of a “dangerous pattern of coercive and risky operational behavior” by Chinese military jets against U.S. aircraft in international airspace over both the South China Sea and the East China Sea, which separates China from Japan.

“The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international laws allow,” it said.

The Pentagon told Congress in a report this month that it had recorded more than 180 intercepts of U.S. aircraft by Chinese military forces in the Asia-Pacific region since the autumn of 2021 — more than in the previous decade. Some of those intercepts were in the South China Sea.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, including waters thousands of miles from the Chinese mainland. It has alarmed much of Asia and the United States over the past decade by asserting ever-greater control over sea, in part by building and fortifying outposts and airstrips on disputed island chains.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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