Chinese aircraft performed 'unsafe' maneuver near U.S. plane: Pentagon

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 6:01 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Chinese aircraft performed an unsafe maneuver during an air intercept of a U.S. spy plane last week, a Pentagon spokesman said on Tuesday, an incident revealed just as Chinese President Xi Jinping kicks off a week-long U.S. visit.

The intercept occurred on Sept. 15, about 80 miles (130 km) east of the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow Sea and involved an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane, said Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman.

"The pilot reported that he felt ... the aircraft passed in front of his nose in an unsafe fashion," Cook said, referring to the Chinese aircraft.

"There's no indication this was a near collision."

The Department of Defense is reviewing the report of the incident, Cook said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he did not know anything about the incident but China was committed to maritime and aviation safety.

"China has consistently dedicated itself to maintaining maritime and air safety in accordance with international laws and norms, and to establishing mutual military trust with other countries to appropriately manage differences," he told reporters.

China's Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Cook said last week's intercept was not similar to an incident in August 2014, when a Chinese warplane flew as close as 20 to 30 feet (7 to 10 meters) to a U.S. Navy patrol jet and conducted a barrel roll over the plane.

But it was the latest in a series of moves by China seen as an assertion of the expanding reach of its military. This month, five Chinese Navy ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska as U.S. President Barack Obama toured the U.S. state.

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said in a statement on Tuesday that last week's intercept was part of a "pattern of aggressive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region" by China.

"That this flight came amid negotiations of rules for air-to-air encounters and just one week ahead of President Xi's arrival in the United States raises further questions about China's intentions and the Obama administrations response thus far," the statement said.

Xi's visit will include meetings with U.S. business leaders, a black-tie state dinner at the White House, and an address at the United Nations.

The visit comes as U.S.-China relations have been strained over a number of issues, including disputes in the South China Sea, cyber espionage by Chinese actors, and Chinese economic policies.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati, additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Andrew Hay and Robert Birsel)