BEIJING (SCMP) - Beijing on Wednesday condemned U.S. military fly-bys in the South China Sea as “provocative” after Washington described a Chinese jet as “unnecessarily aggressive” during an encounter last week.
Mao Ning, spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said the United States had “frequently” sent ships and aircraft to conduct reconnaissance against China, seriously endangering its national sovereignty and security.
“Such provocative and dangerous actions are the root cause of maritime security issues, and the U.S. should immediately stop such dangerous provocative actions,” Mao said during a regular briefing.
China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its sovereignty and security, she added.
Mao made the comments in response to a question about a video published by the U.S. military on Tuesday, which the Pentagon said showed a Chinese fighter jet making an “unnecessarily aggressive” maneuver against its pilots over the South China Sea.
In a statement accompanying the video, the U.S. military command responsible for the Indo-Pacific, also known as “Indopacom”, said the Chinese J-16 jet carried out the maneuver over international waters last week, forcing the U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane to fly through its wake turbulence.
The Chinese pilot “flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135”, Indopacom said in the statement with embedded video showing a fighter jet passing in front of the U.S. plane’s nose.
“The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law,” it said.
#USINDOPACOM Statement on #PRC Unprofessional Intercept: “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
“The United States will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” it said, adding, “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
The incident occurred during a week in which two U.S. officials have decried Beijing’s denial of invitations to set up high-level, military-to-military talks.
Speaking in New York last week, U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral John Aquilino accused the Chinese government of holding out on such invitations as a “bartering chip” and condemned that approach as a failure “to mitigate risk and to avoid miscalculation”.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner reiterated on Thursday that Washington hoped for open lines of communication but that China had yet to reciprocate.
The Chinese government considers most of the South China Sea its territorial waters, and routinely denounces US military operations there. To strengthen its claim, in 2021 it issued a notification directive for foreign vessels plying these waters.
The order issued by China’s Maritime Safety Administration applies to submersibles, nuclear vessels, ships carrying radioactive materials, ships carrying bulk oil, chemicals, liquefied gas and other toxic and harmful substances and other vessels deemed a threat to the country’s maritime traffic safety.
Bilateral tension on the military front appeared to escalate earlier on Tuesday, after Beijing’s Foreign Ministry blamed Washington for its rejection of an invitation for Chinese Defense Minister General Li Shangfu to meet his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin at the coming Shangri-La Dialogue defense summit.