China rejects US allegations over plane interception

BEIJING • China has denied United States allegations that two Chinese fighter jets acted unprofessionally in intercepting an American military plane earlier this week, saying that its aircraft were acting "in accordance with the law".

"Related remarks from the US side are inconsistent with fact," the Chinese Ministry of Defence said in a statement posted on its website late last Friday. "On May 17, a US reconnaissance aircraft was carrying out an operation in airspace over the Chinese Yellow Sea, and Chinese aircraft acted to identify and investigate in accordance with the law," the statement said, calling the action "professional" and "safe".

The US Air Force said in an earlier statement last Friday that its plane, a WC-135 Constant Phoenix, was conducting a "routine mission" in international airspace when it was intercepted by two Chinese Sukhoi SU-30 fighter aircraft.

The WC-135 is a so-called "sniffer plane" designed to scan the atmosphere for signs of nuclear activity.

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The US Air Force said: "The WC-135 was operating in accordance with international law. While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the US aircrew characterised the intercept as unprofessional."

The statement out of Beijing came as Chinese State Councillor Yang Jiechi discussed preparations for the first round of the China-US diplomatic and security dialogue in a phone conversation yesterday with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in a statement that Mr Yang and Mr Tillerson "exchanged views... of common concern, such as the Korean peninsula", but did not say whether the aircraft incident was discussed.

Midair interceptions occur routinely in international airspace, but the US military will often call out foreign pilots if it judges the manoeuvres to be risky or unprofessional.

Meanwhile, China urged the US to halt such reconnaissance exercises in order to prevent future incidents. "The American military's frequent reconnaissance operations are the root cause of security issues between the Chinese and US navies and air forces," the Chinese Defence Ministry's statement said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 21, 2017, with the headline 'China rejects US allegations over plane interception'. Print Edition | Subscribe