Chinese Jet Intercepts US Spy Plane Over South China Sea
Fresh interaction between Chinese and US military aircraft flying over the South China Sea Friday has served to underscore that tensions between the two powers remain on a knife's edge in the region.
An American P-8 patrol aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-11 jet fighter, reportedly armed with four air-to-air missiles. According to The Wall Street Journal the Chinese aircraft "passed above and settled a few hundred feet from the wing of the U.S. Navy plane."
A CNN crew was on board the US spy plane and observed the urgent communications from the Chinese side, which demanded the US aircraft go no further.
"American aircraft, this is the PLA air force. You are approaching Chinese airspace. Keep a safe distance or you will be intercepted," a Chinese military ground station radioed the P-8.
The journalists observed that at the time of the warning the reconnaissance aircraft they were aboard was flying some 30 miles from the contested Paracel islands at an altitude of 21,500 feet. The Paracels are home to outlying Chinese military bases, which Beijing has used to push for an expanded interpretation of its maritime territorial claims.
However, the US considers that airspace over the whole region constitutes international airspace. The CNN crew observed further:
"American aircraft. Chinese airspace is 12 nautical miles. Not approaching any more or you bear all responsibility," it says.
In a few minutes, a Chinese fighter jet armed with air-to-air missiles intercepts the US plane, nestling in just 500 feet off its port side.
The Chinese fighter jet was so close, the CNN crew could see the pilots turning their heads to look at them – and could make out the red star on the tail fins and the missiles it was armed with.
The US pilots responded, "PLA fighter aircraft, this is US Navy P-8A … I have you off my left wing and I intend to proceed to the west. I request that you do the same, over."
From there, the Chinese fighter jet continued shadowing the US plane for 15 minutes, without responding verbally, and turned away.
Despite repeat occurrences like this over the past couple years, the Pentagon has remained determined in its both "freedom of navigation" traverses in the seas below, and patrols in the air above - all in China's own backyard.