China denied Thursday that it buzzed a Navy patrol plane over international waters in the tense South China Sea on Tuesday, with a spokesman insisting that it’s America’s responsibility to stop such routine patrols.
The pilot of the U.S. EP-3 Aries had to descend by a couple hundred feet in order to prevent colliding with two Chinese J-11 fighters that rushed out to confront the reconnaissance plane, U.S. military officials said.
“Information from the relevant Chinese authorities shows that what the U.S. said is not true,” China Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a press conference Thursday. “The US Navy plane EP-3 was then conducting reconnaissance close to China’s Hainan Dao. In accordance with laws and regulations, the two Chinese military aircraft followed and monitored the U.S. plane from a safe distance without taking any dangerous actions. Their operation was completely in keeping with safety and professional standards.”
Hong charged that “U.S. military vessels and aircraft frequently carry out reconnaissance in Chinese coastal waters, seriously endangering Chinese maritime and airspace security.”
“We demand that the U.S. immediately cease this type of close reconnaissance and prevent this sort of incident from happening again.”
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Thursday that the incident “is still under review — but certainly our air crew felt that this was not conducted in the safest and most professional way.”
“And so we’ll continue to review all the facts in this case. And this is an area where we have not had really a significant number of issues like this since some of the confidence-building measures over the last few months,” Cook added. “And so, obviously this is a concern that something like this would happen. We’ll go through the review process and determine what, if any, appropriate action is needed.”
Cook said “there were two Chinese aircraft that approached and our air crew felt that the approach was not conducted in the safest — a safe and professional manner,” and that it did happen in international airspace.
“And we have continued to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he added.
The spokesman said the U.S. government would “use all the appropriate diplomatic channels to register our concerns as appropriate once we’ve concluded ourselves what happened here and the circumstances… but I’m not going to get into hypotheticals at this point.”
Hong, meanwhile, insisted “the operation by the Chinese military aircraft was totally in line with safety and professional standards.”
“What really matters is that the U.S. should immediately cease such kind of close reconnaissance,” the Chinese spokesman added.