Chinese jets buzz US plane over East China Sea

WASHINGTON • Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea over the weekend, with one coming within about 90m of the American aircraft, two US officials told Reuters yesterday.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said initial reports showed one of the Chinese J-10 aircraft came close to the US EP-3 plane on Sunday, causing the American aircraft to change direction.

One of the Chinese J-10 jets flew under the American jet, then suddenly popped up in front, forcing "the EP-3 to take evasive action to avoid collision", one official said, reported Fox News. The persons spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly.

The incident occurred roughly 80 nautical miles south of the Chinese port city of Qingdao, with both Chinese fighter aircraft equipped with air-to-air missiles, the officials said.

The incident occurred just two months after a similar close call when two J-10s carried out an unsafe buzz manoeuvre near a US P-3 surveillance plane close to disputed islands in the South China Sea, reported The Sun.

A week prior to that incident in May, Chinese jets intercepted a US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix "nuclear sniffer" plane over the East China Sea, reported RT. The latest incident comes just days after top US naval officer, Admiral John Richardson, spoke to his Chinese counterpart on possible steps to put pressure on North Korea over its missile and nuclear weapons programme, reported Fox News.

China and the US have been at loggerheads over Beijing's claims to vast swathes of the South China Sea.

Earlier this month, a US guided missile destroyer sailed near a contested island in the South China Sea that is claimed by China in the second so-called "freedom of navigation" undertaken by the US since President Donald Trump took office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese jets buzz US plane over East China Sea'. Print Edition | Subscribe