BEIJING • China's Defence Ministry said yesterday it was still verifying what happened in an incident last week, which the Pentagon said involved a Chinese aircraft performing an unsafe manoeuvre during an air intercept of a US spy plane.
The intercept occurred on Sept 15, about 130km east of the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow Sea and involved an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane, said a Pentagon spokesman.
The spokesman said the intercept was not similar to an incident in August last year, when a Chinese warplane flew as close as 7m to 10m to a US Navy patrol jet and conducted a barrel roll over the plane.
Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said China had always been committed to maintaining maritime and air safety in accordance with international laws and norms, and to establishing mutual military trust with other countries to appropriately manage differences.
"As for the detailed incident you mentioned, the relevant situation is still being further verified," Mr Wu told a regular monthly news conference. He did not elaborate.
The news came as Chinese President Xi Jinping was beginning his first state visit to the United States.
The intercept was the latest in a series of moves by China seen as an assertion of the expanding reach of its military. This month, five Chinese navy ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska as US President Barack Obama toured the US state.
US Republican Senator John McCain said in a statement on Tuesday that last week's intercept was part of a "pattern of aggressive behaviour in the Asia-Pacific region" by China.
"That this flight came amid negotiations of rules for air-to-air encounters and just one week ahead of President Xi's arrival in the United States raises further questions about China's intentions and the Obama administration's response thus far," the statement said.
Among the few concrete agreements expected to result from a summit between Mr Xi and Mr Obama later this week is a military- to-military confidence-building step aimed at reducing the risk of collisions between warplanes in areas such as the South China Sea through adoption of common rules of behaviour.
The two countries have already agreed to mutual reporting mechanisms on major military exercises and to a code of conduct to avoid dangerous air and sea encounters.
Mr Wu said that last week, China and the US had agreed to two new annexes to help further reduce the risk of encounters ending badly, tightening up the existing agreement and adding some new operational details.