Two Chinese J-10 fighter jets intercepted a U.S. Navy surveillance plane flying over international waters in the East China Sea on Sunday, with one jet coming within 300 feet (91 meters) of the American aircraft, U.S. officials told Reuters.
The officials said that one of the Chinese J-10 aircraft came so close to the U.S. EP-3 plane, which is a modified version of the P-3 Orion spy plane, it caused the American aircraft to change direction. One of the Chinese interceptors flew under the EP-3 and appeared less than a 100 meters in front of the US spy plane, causing the crew “to take evasive action to avoid collision,” according to one official. Reuters adds that the Chinese jet was armed and that the interception happened 80 nautical miles (148 km) from the Chinese city of Qingdao.
After the “dangerous” intercept, the Pentagon said that the latest encounter between the aircraft was unsafe, but added that the vast majority of interactions were safe.
Previously China has warned the US about flying too close to its coastline and remains deeply suspicious of any U.S. military activity over contested territorial waters.
This was the third time in recent months that Chinese interceptors have warned off US spy planes flying off the coast of China. In Two months ago, as the US Navy sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea, two Chinese Su-30 jets buzzed a P-3 Orion 150 miles southeast of Hong Kong in what US officials called an “unsafe intercept.” A week earlier, Chinese jets intercepted a US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix “nuclear sniffer” plane over the East China Sea.
In April 2001, an EP-3E ARIES II collided with a Chinese J-8 fighter and had to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island. The crash killed the Chinese pilot. While the crew was repatriated in 11 days after Washington apologized for the incident, the plane remained in Chinese possession until July, when it was shipped back to the US in pieces. Reuters adds that that encounter soured U.S.-Chinese relations in the early days of President George W. Bush’s first term on office.
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