BEIJING — The American military has accused a Chinese fighter jet of maneuvering too fast and too close to a United States Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane as it flew in international airspace over the East China Sea this week.
The United States Pacific Command said in a statement that one of two Chinese jets involved in an intercept operation on Tuesday had “an unsafe excessive rate of closure on the RC-135 aircraft.”
“This seems to be a case of improper airmanship, as no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers occurred,” the Pacific Command said.
The episode was the second report of an unsafe intercept recently by a Chinese jet tracking an American spy plane in the waters around China.
Last month, the Pentagon said two Chinese fighter jets flew dangerously close to an EP-3 aircraft off the coast of Hainan, the southernmost province of China.
In that case, the Chinese plane flew within 50 feet of the American jet over the South China Sea, breaking an agreement on safe conduct in the air that Beijing and Washington signed last year, the Pentagon said.
The East China Sea is a sensitive area for China and Japan, an American treaty ally. Islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China, a group of uninhabited rocks in the East China Sea, are the center of a bitter territorial dispute between the two countries, which regularly dispatch patrol ships close to them.
China’s Ministry of Defense told Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, that the United States was “deliberately hyping up the issue of reconnaissance by American military aircraft near China.”
Chinese military pilots always operate according to the rules and act in a “professional and responsible” manner, a ministry spokesman who was not identified by the newspaper was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
The commander of the Pacific Command, Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., said at a conference in Singapore last weekend that he had seen “positive behavior” by Chinese military aircraft and ships recently.
“Every now and then, you’ll see an incident in the air that we may judge to be unsafe,” he said. “Those are really, over the course of time, rare.”