Video of the incident shows a Chinese J-11 jet flying dangerously close to a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea.

A Chinese fighter jet flew within six meters (20 feet) of a US Air Force surveillance aircraft over the hotly contested South Chinese Ocean earlier this month, the US military said Thursday.

On December 21, a Chinese J-11 fighter pilot performed an “unsafe” maneuver during an intercept of a US Air Force RC-135 aircraft, according to the US Indo-Pacific Command, which also released a video clip of the incident.

Footage from the encounter shows the Chinese fighter jet flying within meters of the much larger surveillance aircraft’s nose, a maneuver the US says forced the pilot to take “evasive” measures to avoid a collision.

The US said its plane was flying “legally” while conducting routine operations in international airspace.

“The US Indo-Pacific Joint Force is committed 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.” the US military said in a statement.

“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the statement said.

In the past months, Chinese fighter pilots have been accused of flying dangerously close to planesparticularly from several U.S. allies, patrol geopolitically sensitive locations in the region.

In June, Canada accused China allegedly harassed its planes conducting United Nations sanctions patrols along the North Korean border. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the reports “extremely disturbing” at the time.

Australia also claimed a Chinese fighter jet In May, he “dangerously” intercepted an Australian military surveillance aircraft. The alleged encounters took place on April 26 and May 26.

A US military spokesman told The New York Times that the most recent interception by a Chinese jet came amid an “alarming increase in unsafe air interceptions and naval engagements by PLA [People’s Liberation Army] planes and ships”.

“So this latest incident reflects a worrying trend of unsafe and dangerous interception practices by the PLA that are of grave concern to the United States,” the spokesman said.

A day after the alleged airborne encounter, US officials said they were “closely monitoring” China’s military activities in the region.

“We continue to oppose any military pressure or coercion against our allies and partners in the region,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a separate statement. statement.

A photograph of Chinese structures and buildings on the artificial island on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys Islands in the South China Sea.
Chinese structures and buildings on the man-made island on Johnson Reef off the Spratly Islands group in the South China Sea can be seen in March 2022 [File: Aaron Favila/AP Photo]

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, despite a 2016 international court ruling that Beijing’s claims were unfounded. The US has also rejected China’s claims to the resource-rich waters.

Nevertheless, China has continued to build artificial islands and establish a military presence in the disputed sea. The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan also claim parts of the South China Sea.

In 2015, a defiant Xi Jinping said the South China Sea had been controlled by China “since ancient times”, though the claim is historically disputed.

The dangerous airspace encounter came just weeks after China claimed a US missile cruiser had “illegally intruded” into waters near the Spratly Islands in the South Chinese Ocean. The US Navy denied the reports, describing the Chinese statement as “false”. China previously viewed US naval patrols in the Taiwan Strait as a “security risk.”

Last week, China and Russia held joint naval exercises “deepen” the military partnership of the two countries in the East China Sea.

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