The United States says two Chinese jets have intercepted a US spy plane flying over the East China Sea.
The Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 jets reportedly came within close proximity of an American four-engine WC-135 jet, with one of the Su-30s flying upside down, directly above the American plane, Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge, a spokesperson for the US Air Force, said on Thursday.
The Chinese fighter jets had outmaneuvered the US jet, forcing it to descend hundreds of feet from its position.
“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” Hodge said.
The crew of the US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft, also known as a “nuke sniffer,” described the confrontation as “unprofessional.” One crew member said the intercept was “unprofessional” because of “the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”
The WC-135 has been regularly deployed on missions in Northeast Asia, according to US officials. The “nuke sniffer” reconnaissance planes have been used in the past to gather evidence of nuclear activities by North Korea, according to reports by US media.
The US’s military presence in the region concerns China, which says such presence causes unnecessary tensions.
Chinese forces conducted two more interceptions last year, one in the South China Sea and one in the East China Sea. In the second case, a Chinese J-10 fighter came within 100 feet of a US Navy RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.
Japan scrambles jets
Meanwhile, Japan said on Friday that it had scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese vessel sailing in disputed waters launched a drone.
Japan dispatched four planes, including two F-15 fighters and an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) plane to waters surrounding the islets on Thursday, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.
Japan and China are at odds in a longstanding territorial row over a group of small uninhabited islands in the East China Sea administered as the Senkakus by Japan but claimed as the Diaoyus by China.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s top government spokesman, told a regular press briefing that the incident took place Thursday and that Japan filed a “strong protest” against China.
“This is a new form of activity by China,” he said, adding, “We strictly protested that this is a unilateral escalation and that we absolutely cannot accept it.”
Japan has said its military scrambled a record number of jets last year, mostly in response to an increase in approaching Chinese aircraft.