Chinese military plane grazes US fighter jet in South China Sea

“This is provocation”, would probably have reacted Jacques Chirac. Last week, a Chinese military aircraft came within 3m of a US Air Force aircraft in the disputed South China Sea, or South China Sea, between several nations, and forced him to perform maneuvers to avoid a collision in international airspace, the U.S. military said Thursday. The Chinese Navy’s J-11 fighter jet approached the US Air Force’s RC-135 on Dec. 21. Six meters separated the noses of the planes, but less than 3 m separated the wings.

The close encounter is part of what the United States calls a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by Chinese military aircraft, after years of calm. During a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in November, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin discussed these dangerous maneuvers. “We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the US military said. The United States has raised the issue with the Chinese government, another US official said.

In the past, China has said that the US sending ships and planes to the South China Sea is not conducive to peace, while US military planes and ships regularly carry out operations monitoring and travel in the region, in particular to show their support for Taiwan.

China claims large swathes of the South China Sea that overlap with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines. Billions of dollars in trade pass through this waterway each year, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas deposits.

Australia’s Department of Defense said in June that a Chinese fighter jet dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region in May. According to Australia, the Chinese aircraft flew close to the RAAF aircraft and dropped a “chaff packet” containing small pieces of aluminum which were ingested into the engine of the Australian aircraft. A few months earlier, Canberra had accused two Chinese navy ships sailing off the northern coast of Australia to aim with a laser an Australian surveillance plane, which “could put lives at risk”.

In June, the Canadian military accused Chinese warplanes of harassing its patrol planes as they monitored North Korea’s sanctions evasions, sometimes causing Canadian planes to deviate from their flight path.

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