Releasing photos and video of more than 180 Chinese intercepts in past two years, Pentagon warns of dangers of such incidents.
The United States has released footage of more than 180 Chinese intercepts of US fighter jets in the skies above the western Pacific over the past two years, more than the total reported in the previous decade.
The Pentagon released a series of photos and videos on Tuesday in advance of its annual China Military Power Report, which is expected to be released soon.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner described a “sharp increase in coercive and risky operational behaviour in the East and South China seas”, referring to airborne interactions between China’s People’s Liberation Army and the US Air Force.
Ratner noted a January 2023 incident in which a Chinese fighter flew “hundreds of miles per hour” towards a US aircraft flying in international airspace over the South China Sea. The Chinese jet flew 30 feet (9 metres) from the US plane for more than 15 minutes, he said.
That incident occurred shortly after the US Indo-Pacific Command accused a Chinese fighter jet of performing an “unsafe” manoeuvre during an intercept of a US Air Force RC-135 surveillance plane over the hotly contested South China Sea.
On Tuesday, officials stopped short of calling most of the flights unsafe – a specific term used only in the most egregious cases. Still, they added that the flights were part of a larger trend of regional intimidation by China that could accidentally lead to conflict.
“All of these examples we’ve released today underscore the coercive intent of (China) by engaging in behaviours, particularly in international airspace,” Ratner said. “The bottom line is that in many cases, this type of operational behaviour can cause active and dangerous accidents” and can lead inadvertently to conflict, he added.
The US release comes a day after Canada said a Chinese fighter jet flew within 5 metres (16 feet) of a Canadian military plane over international waters near North Korea.
Defence Minister Bill Blair described the actions as “dangerous and reckless”.
In response, China accused Canada of an “illegal intrusion into the airspace of Chiwei Yu, an affiliated island of China’s Diaoyu Dao”. The disputed islands are controlled by Japan, where they are known as the Senkaku Islands.
“What happened was that the Canadian side has sent warplanes halfway around the world to stir up trouble and make provocations at China’s doorsteps,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press briefing on Tuesday. “The Chinese side responded to the situation in accordance with laws and regulations. The Canadian side should respect the facts and stop spreading disinformation.”
The US has tried for years to prepare itself to be ready for a potential conflict with China over Taiwan even as it moves to support Ukraine and Israel.
Admiral John Acquilino, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, told the briefing it still had what it needed to deter China.
“I haven’t had one piece of equipment or force structure depart” his command, he said, referring to ships, aircraft and military units. “We have been taking a number of steps to strengthen our commitment to the region, strengthen our deterrence in the region and we will continue to do that.”