A Chinese J-11 fighter jet, armed with air-to-air missiles, intercepted a US patrol aircraft near the Paracel Islands over the South China Sea on Friday, a report said.
The US Navy P-8 Poseidon, was flying 21,500 feet over the South China Sea, when the pilot saw a Chinese jet with a red star on the tail fins and the missiles it was armed with. The Chinese jet, which settled a few hundred feet from the wing of the US aircraft, escorted it for 15 minutes before turning away.
The US patrol aircraft received a message from China’s People’s Liberation Army: American aircraft. Chinese airspace is 12 nautical miles away. Not approaching any more or you bear all responsibility.
China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and strongly objects to military activity by other nations in the contested waterway through which $5 trillion in goods are shipped every year.
It has accused the US of using patrol aircraft to spy on China and hasn’t responded to US calls for talks on such potentially dangerous military encounters.
Besides, Paracel Island, over which the US aircraft was intercepted is a disputed region with China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all staking claims. It has also emerged as a flashpoint between the US and China in recent years.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
China claims the entire region as its own and has built artificial islands, military bases, runways and weapons systems. Paracel Island houses one such military base and China claims the surrounding 12 nautical miles of airspace as its own.
The US takes no official position on sovereignty in the South China Sea, but maintains that freedom of navigation and overflight must be preserved. Several times a year, it sends ships sailing past fortified Chinese outposts in the Spratly Islands, prompting protests from Beijing.
The US has also been strengthening its defense alliance with the Philippines, which has faced encroachment on islands and fisheries by the Chinese coast guard and nominally civilian but government-backed fleets.
The tensions over the South China Sea come amid a diplomatic row sparked by a suspected Chinese spy balloon, which was shot down by a US fighter jet off the coast of South Carolina.
The US said the unmanned balloon was equipped to detect and collect intelligence signals, but Beijing insists it was a weather research airship that had accidently blown off course.