WASHINGTON – Chinese military jets intercepted U.S. naval aircraft in at least three “provocative” incidents earlier this year in addition to a case Washington made public last week, a U.S. paper said Monday.
The Wall Street Journal, quoting U.S. officials, said “a rogue pilot or a group of pilots” may have been involved in the “dangerously close encounters” that occurred in international airspace over the South China Sea.
The U.S. officials do not believe the aggressive flying was directly authorized by the Chinese military, the report said.
The series of incidents underscore “how deep-seated suspicions remain, despite attempts by some senior officers and political leaders on both sides to build a working relationship,” the report said.
The U.S. government said Friday that it protested to China about a near-miss incident involving military aircraft on Aug. 19 in which a Chinese fighter intercepted a U.S. patrol plane and came within 10 meters of it over the sea.
A U.S. Defense Department official said Monday that U.S. and Chinese officials will hold two-day talks set to start Tuesday on the issue of “rules of behavior for air and maritime activities,” probably including last week’s incident.
While this week’s discussions at the Pentagon were planned long before the recent incidents, they touch on issues at the core of the U.S. concerns about Chinese military behavior: that a Chinese provocation could spiral into a broader crisis sparked by a military miscalculation in the disputed territory.
China’s sovereignty claims over the strategic stretch of mineral-rich water off its southern coast and to the east of mainland Southeast Asia set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts of the disputed areas.
The meetings involve a working group to discuss existing multilateral standards of behavior for air and maritime activities, the defense official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Rear Adm. James Foggo, Assistant Deputy Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, is among the U.S. military officials attending, the official said. It was not immediately clear which Chinese officials would participate.
The U.S. and Chinese militaries have boosted their contacts in recent years amid recognition that, as China’s economic interests continue to expand it will play a bigger security role in the world and have more interactions with the U.S. military.
Still, the recent intercepts show that those increased contacts have not eliminated friction between the two.
In April 2001, a similar aggressive intercept of a U.S. EP-3E spy plane by a Chinese F-8 fighter in the same area resulted in a collision that killed the Chinese pilot and forced the American plane to make an emergency landing at a base on China’s Hainan Island.
The 24 U.S. air crew members were held for 11 days until Washington apologized for the incident. That encounter soured U.S.-Chinese relations in the early days of President George W. Bush’s first administration.
China has denied wrongdoing in the latest incident and blamed the United States, citing “large-scale and highly frequent close-in reconnaissance.”
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