A Chinese jet fighter came within 20 feet of a U.S. Air Force plane flying over the South China Sea. The Air Force said if its pilot didn’t take evasive actions, the planes would have collided.
In a video released by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy J-11 can be seen flying dangerously close to the front of a U.S. Air Force RC-135. Indo-Pacific Command said the Air Force plane in the video, which was shot on Dec. 21, was lawfully conducting routine operations in international air space. The RC-135 is a reconnaissance aircraft.
Had the planes collided, it no doubt would have sparked an international incident similar to a 2001 air collision that left one Chinese pilot dead.
China is known to challenge or harass military aircraft from the U.S. and its allies in and over open waters. China is especially protective of the strategically vital South China Sea. China claims the area as its own. The U.S. is content with ignoring that claim.
A statement from the Indo-Pacific command said, “The U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force is dedicated to a free and open Indo-Pacific region and will continue to fly, sail, and operate at sea and in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law.”
“We expect all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law,” it continued.
There’s good reason for the U.S. to have intelligence assets in the region to keep an eye on China. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent saber-rattling regarding Taiwan is only inflaming tensions. And despite promises from Xi saying he would not install military bases in contested waters, in spring 2022, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said China fully militarized at least three islands in the South China Sea.