Chinese jets intercept US military plane over East China Sea
US says the intercept was ‘unprofessional’ and has raised the issue with China. Japan meanwhile protests a Chinese drone flight in disputed waters
Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets carried out what the US military described on Thursday as an “unprofessional” intercept of a US radiation detection aircraft while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea.
“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said air force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.
Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”
“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” Hodge said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was underway.
She said the WC-135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.
The incident follows a similar one in February when a US Navy P-3 spy plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea. The US saw that event as unsafe but also inadvertent.
Separately, Japan’s defence minister, Tomomi Inada, criticised what she said was a drone flight from a Chinese government vessel that had entered Japanese waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea, describing it as “a violation of sovereignty.”
“A drone flight from a Chinese government ship that entered our territorial waters is totally unacceptable, as we think it will lead to the escalation of the situation. The case is a serious violation of our national sovereignty,” Inada said at a news conference.
Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said at a separate press conference that the drone flight was “a new type of action by China.”
“We have sternly protested that it is utterly unacceptable,” he said.
The incident took place after the Japan Coast Guard confirmed four China Coast Guard vessels had entered waters around the uninhabited islands, as well as the existence of a drone flying above one of the vessels on Thursday morning.
Japan and China have long been at loggerheads over the tiny, uninhabited islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
It was the first such flight near the islands witnessed by Japanese officials, although Thursday’s incident takes to 13 the number of intrusions this year by Chinese coastguard ships in the contested waters, Japan’s coastguard said.
Japanese government sources said an F-15 fighter jet was scrambled in response to the deployment of a drone. Japanese coast guard ordered the Chinese vessels to leave the waters and they did so nearly two hours later. The drone later disappeared from sight, Japanese coast guard said.
The Chinese embassy responded to the Japanese protest by reiterating “China’s own stance” on the islands, the official added.
In a brief statement on its website, China’s State Oceanic Administration confirmed that four coast guard vessels had been patrolling by the islands, but made no mention of any drone.
China routinely rejects Japanese criticism of such patrols, saying its ships have every right to operate in what China calls its territorial waters.
Additional reporting by Kyodo