China fighter jet made 'unsafe' intercept of US spy plane in East China Sea, says US

US Secretary of State John Kerry holds a press conference at the conclusion of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing.
US Secretary of State John Kerry holds a press conference at the conclusion of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Chinese fighter jet carried out an "unsafe" intercept of a US spy plane in international airspace over the East China Sea, two US defence officials said on Tuesday (June 7).

The intercept involved a Chinese J-10 fighter plane and a US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane, the officials said.

The officials, who requested anonymity, said the air crew deemed the encounter to be "unsafe" because of the "high rate of speed" at which the Chinese jet was travelling.

China’s Defence Ministry said it had noted the report and was looking into it.

“Judging by the report, the US side is again deliberately hyping up the issue of the close surveillance of China by US military aircraft,” it said in a statement sent to Reuters.

“Chinese military pilots consistently carry out operations in accordance with the law and the rules, and are professional and responsible,” it added, without elaborating

In May, the Pentagon said that two Chinese fighter jets flew within 50 feet (15 meters) of a US EP-3 aircraft over the South China Sea. The Pentagon determined that the May incident violated an agreement the two governments signed last year.

Earlier this week, Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would consider any Chinese establishment of an air defence zone over the South China Sea to be a "provocative and destabilising act."

US officials have expressed concern that an international court ruling expected in coming weeks on a case brought by the Philippines against China over its South China Sea claims could prompt Beijing to declare an air defence identification zone, or Adiz, as it did over the East China Sea in 2013.

China has claimed most of the South China Sea, through which US$5 trillion (S$6.8 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Washington has accused Beijing of militarising the South China Sea after creating artificial islands. Beijing, in turn, has criticised increased US naval patrols and exercises in Asia.

During a conference in Singapore last week, Defence Secretary Ash Carter said the US approach to the Asia-Pacific remained "one of commitment, strength and inclusion", but he warned China against provocative behaviour in the South China Sea.