A Chinese fighter jet maneuvered itself in front of an American reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea on Dec. 21 and came within 20 feet (6 meters) of a crash, according to the U.S. military.
The Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet suddenly flew in front of the nose of the U.S. Air Force RC-135 plane, forcing the latter to take evasive action, a statement from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said.
The American military said its plane “was lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace.”
“The U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” it said.
Beijing claims a large swathe of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory, which the United States and other allies, many of whom have overlapping maritime claims, reject as illegal. China’s claim runs far south from its land border, starting on the edge of Taiwan and extending along the Vietnamese coast to Malaysia.
In 2016, an international tribunal China’s claim to the large area of ocean – falling within a “” present on some historical Chinese maps – as having no legal basis.
The United States, meanwhile, has long maintained that the bulk of the South China Sea – through which more than $3 trillion in trade passes each year – is international waters. U.S. military craft often carry out associated “freedom of navigation” exercises through the area, leading to rebukes from Beijing but rarely confrontation.
But the came just days before one of China’s biggest ever incursions into Taiwanese airspace, which itself came just days after the U.S. Congress approved billions of dollars in loans and military aid to Taiwan in a defense spending package. (KB/RFA)