A Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber over the South China Sea this week in a nighttime maneuver that nearly caused a collision, the United States military said on Thursday.
The pilot of the J-11 jet that drew close to the B-52 in international airspace on Tuesday night “flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner” and with “uncontrolled excessive speed,” the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.
The U.S. military also released a grainy, black-and-white video that it said showed the encounter. The midair clip, apparently filmed from the bomber, appears to show the jet drawing perilously close. The New York Times has not independently verified the video.
China had no immediate response to the Pentagon’s statement. Chinese officials have previously depicted the air intercepts as reasonable responses to foreign military patrols that threatened the country’s security. In June, China’s defense minister at the time, Gen. Li Shangfu, downplayed an earlier episode in which an American naval destroyer slowed to avoid a possible collision with a Chinese Navy ship that had crossed its path as it moved through the strait between China and Taiwan, the self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own.
Speaking at a conference in Singapore, General Li said in June that the best way to avoid an accident was for countries outside the region, like the United States, to leave and “mind your own business.”
But the Pentagon’s statement on Thursday said that the latest near miss was part of a “dangerous pattern of coercive and risky operational behavior” by Chinese military jets against U.S. aircraft in international airspace over both the South China Sea and the East China Sea, which separates China from Japan.
“The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international laws allow,” it said.
China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, some of it thousands of miles from the Chinese mainland. It has alarmed much of Asia and the United States over the past decade by asserting ever-greater control over the waters, in part by building and fortifying outposts and airstrips on disputed island chains.
Claire Fu contributed research.