A Chinese J-16 fighter pilot performed an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” on a U.S. military plane this past Friday, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs Office said Tuesday in a report.
In the most recent intercept, a Chinese fighter pilot “flew directly in front of the nose” of an RC-135 U.S. aircraft, according to the report. The U.S. plane then had to fly through the Chinese fighter plane’s turbulence.
Relations between the United States and China have grown increasingly tense, especially regarding U.S. airspace, after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese spy balloon off the Eastern Seaboard in February. The two countries also have been sparring over international airspace, with the U.S. charging that China has been conducting unsafe maneuvers with its fighter jets around U.S. aircraft.
In last Friday’s incident, a video taken by U.S. military personnel from inside the U.S. aircraft shows a quickly approaching Chinese fighter jet cutting off the U.S. plane and then taking a sharp turn away from it. The camera shakes as the U.S. plane jostles through the Chinese plane’s turbulence.
A J-16 fighter jet performs in the sky during an airshow on November 10, 2022, in Zhuhai, China. A J-16 fighter pilot recently performed an “aggressive maneuver” on a U.S. plane over the South China Sea, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs Office said.
The aggressive maneuver occurred while the U.S. plane was conducting “safe and routine operations” in the sky over the South China Sea, which is international airspace.
Newsweek reached out to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command Public Affairs Office by email for comment.
In a statement, the office chastised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for conducting the aggressive maneuver.
“The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows, and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law,” the statement said.
“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” the statement added.
Brigadier General Pat Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told Newsweek that China declined an invitation from the Defense Department (DoD) for a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu.
“The department believes strongly in the importance of maintaining open lines of military-to-military communication between Washington and Beijing to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict,” Ryder said.
China’s “concerning unwillingness to engage in meaningful military-to-military discussions will not diminish DoD’s commitment to seeking open lines of communication with the People’s Liberation Army at multiple levels as part of responsibly managing the relationship,” the press secretary said.
This past December, a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet initiated a similar interference with a U.S. aircraft over the South China Sea, according to a U.S. report. During that intercept, the Chinese pilot flew within 20 feet of the U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane’s nose, and the U.S. aircraft was forced to maneuver to avoid a collision. In response to the report, China charged that the U.S. “deliberately misled public opinion.”
China said that it sent one of its fighter pilots to intercept the U.S. aircraft and that U.S. military personnel disregarded warnings from the Chinese pilot before changing the plane’s flight course and interrupting the Chinese jet’s flight path.
In January, the U.S. and its allies warned that the Chinese military was conducting dangerous maneuvers that risked accidents. Reports from Australia and Canada said that Chinese fighter jets also have interfered with those nations’ operations, but China defended its behavior, saying it exercised “maximum restraint” amid constant reconnaissance off the Chinese coast.
Update, 05/30/23, 4:35 p.m. ET: This story was updated with additional background and information.