Two Chinese fighter jets carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. military reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea, the Pentagon said on Wednesday, a further escalation of tensions in and around the contested waterway.
The incident took place in international airspace on Tuesday as the U.S. maritime patrol aircraft carried out “a routine U.S. patrol,” a Pentagon statement said.
The incident comes a week after China scrambled fighter jets as a U.S. Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea.
Another Chinese intercept took place in 2014 when a Chinese fighter pilot few acrobatic maneuvers around a U.S. spy plane.
The intercept is also days before President Barack Obama travels to parts of Asia from May 21-28, which will include a Group of Seven summit in Japan and his first trip to Vietnam.
China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.
Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea after creating artificial islands while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased U.S. naval patrols and exercises in Asia.
The Pentagon statement said the Department of Defense was addressing the issue through military and diplomatic channels.
“Over the past year, DoD has seen improvements in PRC actions, flying in a safe and professional manner,” the Pentagon statement said, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
The Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Courtesy Reuters)