A US Air Force plane was forced to take evasive action after a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to it over the South China Sea. The Chinese aircraft came within 10 feet of its American counterpart, the US military has said, with video footage showing just how close the encounter was.
A video released by the US Department of Defence shows remarkable footage of the Chinese jet flying at high altitude.
The footage was taken on December 21 and involved a Chinese Navy J-11 fighter jet and a US Air Force RC-135.
US Indo-Pacific Command said in its statement that the incident could have caused a collision.
They said their plane was “lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace,” the statement said. Its pilot was forced to “take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.”
The statement continued: “The US Indo-Pacific Joint Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law.
“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”
Close encounters like this happen frequently both in the air and on the water as the US and China grapple for control of the South China Sea.
In 2001, the Hainan Island incident saw a US aircraft collide with a Chinese fighter jet, leading to an international dispute. A Chinese pilot also went missing and was later presumed dead.
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The region has become increasingly hostile over the years as China attempts to stake claim over 90 percent of the South China Sea’s waters.
Beijing says it has sovereignty over the area, but nearby countries like Vietnam and the Philippines say China is encroaching on their national waters. This view is also shared by international law enforcers.
In 2016, an International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea found in favour of the Philippines in a dispute over China’s territorial claims.
The US naval forces have also undertaken regular patrols in the South China Sea to try and deter Beijing from its aggression.
However, this doesn’t appear to have worked, as China has built huge island military bases in the region, equipped with missile systems, helipads, and runways for aircraft.
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In November, the US and China also clashed after a US Navy warship undertook a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea.
The Chinese military responded furiously, accusing the US of “illegally entering the waters near China’s Nansha Islands and reefs without the approval of the Chinese government”.
However, Washington hit back with a statement of its own, saying that the patrol was “in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply.”
The statement added: “The PRC’s (China’s) behavior stands in contrast to the United States’ adherence to international law and our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
“All nations, large and small, should be secure in their sovereignty, free from coercion, and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules and norms.”