Two Chinese fighter jets have intercepted a US Navy surveillance plane over the East China Sea, American officials claim.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Chinese J-10 fighters came close to the US EP-3 plane in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner on Sunday and caused the American aircraft to change direction.
One of the Chinese aircraft was armed with air-to-air missiles and passed in front of the American surveillance plane at a distance of about 90 meters, forcing it to “take evasive action to avoid a collision.”
The officials claimed that the US aircraft was conducting routine operations in international airspace at the time of the intercept.
The Pentagon also confirmed the Sunday report.
The encounter was the first incident of its kind since May 24, when two Chinese J-10s intercepted a US surveillance plane in international airspace above the contested South China Sea.
On May 18, the US Air Force said two Chinese Sukhoi Su-30 jets had reportedly came within close proximity of an American four-engine WC-135 jet over the East China Sea, forcing it to descend hundreds of feet from its position. Beijing later denied the claim and said that its aircraft had acted “in accordance with the law.”
Chinese forces conducted two such 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.
Beijing and Tokyo have been involved in a territorial dispute in the East China Sea over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.
China says the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times. Beijing has also called on the US “to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks ... and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation.”
China is also involved in a dispute with the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Vietnam over territory in the South China Sea.
China says the US’s military presence in the region causes unnecessary tensions. There are 77,000 US soldiers based in Japan and neighboring South Korea.