BANGKOK – A Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of a US B-52 bomber flying over the South China Sea, nearly causing an accident, the US military said, highlighting the potential for a mishap as the two countries vie for influence in the region. .
In the night intercept, the twin-engined Shenyang J-11 fighter approached a USAF aircraft “at excessive, uncontrollable speed, flying below, in front of and within 10 feet of the B-52, endangering both aircraft.” “A collision occurred,” the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement issued late Thursday.
“We are concerned that this pilot was not aware of how close he came to causing the collision,” the Army said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a similar incident in May, the Chinese government rejected US complaints and demanded that Washington end such flights over the South China Sea.
China has been increasingly assertive in strengthening its claims over most of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, a position rejected by the United States and other countries that use the vast expanse of ocean for shipping.
China’s claims have led to long-standing territorial disputes with other countries in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. Last week, a Chinese Coast Guard ship and an escort vessel collided with a Philippine Coast Guard ship and a military supply boat off a disputed shoal in the waterway.
In the wake of this incident, President Joe Biden renewed his warning that the United States will be obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest ally in Asia, if Philippine forces, aircraft or ships are subjected to an armed attack. He spoke at a press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday at the White House.
China responded by saying that the United States had no right to interfere in Beijing’s disputes with Manila.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Thursday, at a press conference in Beijing, that “the US defense commitment to the Philippines should not undermine China’s sovereignty, maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea, and should not support the Philippines’ illegal claims.” .
The United States and its allies regularly conduct naval exercises in the South China Sea, and aircraft regularly fly over the region to emphasize that the waters and airspace are international.
The US military said the B-52 was “lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace” when the J-11 intercepted it on Tuesday.
Interceptions are common, with the US saying there have been more than 180 such incidents since the fall of 2021.
However, it is not often close to Tuesday’s incident, and with tensions already high between Beijing and Washington, a collision could have led to escalation.
The US Army said in its statement that the incident would not change its approach.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international laws allow,” the military said.
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