Chinese aircraft have sharply increased what the US says is “coercive and risky” behavior in the South China Sea in the last two years, US officials said, calling it a campaign to deny the US and its allies their right to fly in international airspace.
(Bloomberg) — Chinese aircraft have sharply increased what the US says is “coercive and risky” behavior in the South China Sea in the last two years, US officials said, calling it a campaign to deny the US and its allies their right to fly in international airspace.
The US has recorded some 300 incidents since September 2021 that it characterized as unprofessional and potentially dangerous encounters by People’s Liberation Arm aircraft, said Ely Ratner, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs. Of those 300 incidents, 180 involved the US military, Ratner said.
“Every one of these is one too many,” he told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. He said the incidents involved reckless maneuvers, discharging chaff or getting too close to US pilots.
Asked for comment on Tuesday, Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said the country has taken all necessary measures and the US should stop spreading disinformation.
“The US military vessels and aircraft conduct frequent close-in reconnaissance on China, including 657 sorties last year in the South China Sea alone,” Liu said. “We hope the relevant countries can refrain from taking adventurist or provocative moves and stop undermining China’s national security and regional peace and stability.”
Citing a report on Chinese actions that’s set to be released in the next few days, Ratner accused China of “a centralized and concerted campaign to perform these risky behaviors in order to coerce and change lawful US operational activity and that of US allies and partners.”
That report will discuss the Chinese tactics in more detail. The Pentagon separately released videos and images that the US said showed the Chinese military engaging in those maneuvers.
During one June 2022 encounter that lasted about five hours, four PLA aircraft conducted an intercept, including approaching a US plane within 40 feet and taking picture, the Pentagon statement said.
That behavior is especially worrisome given China’s refusal to open lines of communications between senior levels of the two countries’ militaries, Ratner said. There have been more incidents in the last two years than in the decade before that, according to Ratner.
“The skill and professionalism of American service members should not be the only thing standing between PLA fighter pilots and a dangerous, even fatal accident,” Ratner said. “And yet time after time that is exactly what has prevented disaster in the East and South China seas.”
(Updates with Chinese comment in 4th paragraph.)
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