WASHINGTON — Two Chinese fighters have conducted an "unsafe" intercept of a US spy plane in international air space over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said, as tensions mount in the strategically vital waters.
Tensions between China and the US are high in the disputed waterway, an important shipping route thought to be home to vast energy deposits, and which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
"The Department of Defense (DoD) is reviewing a May 17 intercept of a US maritime patrol reconnaissance aircraft by two tactical aircraft from the People’s Republic of China (PRC)," Pentagon spokesman Major Jamie Davis said in a statement Wednesday.
"Initial reports characterised the incident as unsafe," he added, without giving additional details.
The incident comes more than a decade after a collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US Navy EP-3 spy plane which killed the Chinese pilot and forced the US aircraft to make an emergency landing on the Chinese island province of Hainan.
The crash, which occurred in 2001, unleashed an 11-day standoff as Beijing interrogated the 24 US crew, and held the plane for several months, seriously straining relations between the countries.
They have traded accusations and warnings over such surveillance flights in subsequent years.
The Chinese defense ministry said in a statement faxed to AFP on Thursday that they "noted" reports of the latest incident and said it "is very likely linked to the extremely close surveillance of China by US military aircraft".
The latest intercept came after the Pentagon and China had worked to reduce the risk of mishaps "by improved dialogue at multiple levels".
"Over the past year, DoD has seen improvements in PRC actions, flying in a safe and professional manner," Davis said.
"DoD is addressing the (intercept) through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels." — AFP