According to multiple US media outlets, a Chinese J-11 fighter jet with four air-to-air missiles intercepted an American P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft over the South China Sea on February 24.
The incident occurred while the US media journalists were aboard an American aircraft on a surveillance mission in the South China Sea. The reports said that the US P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was shadowed by a Chinese J-11 fighter jet for well over an hour.
The American military aircraft first received a warning from a Chinese ground station. “American aircraft, this is the PLA air force. You are approaching Chinese airspace. Keep a safe distance, or you will be intercepted,” said the Chinese ground station.
Soon after, a Chinese J-11 fighter jet positioned itself barely 500 feet off the port side of the US aircraft to intercept it. The Chinese fighter jet was so close that the US journalists could see the red star on the tail fins of the J-11 and the weapons the aircraft was carrying.
A few dozen miles north of the Paracel Islands—which China and Vietnam both claim—was where the P-8 and the Chinese jet aircraft came into contact. China has built military installations on a few of the islands.
In response to the Chinese warning, the P-8 crew responded that the aircraft was operating within international airspace.
“No approaching anymore, or you will pay full responsibility,” the Chinese ground station retorted.
The US Navy aircraft looped south around the islands while the J-11 remained close, then proceeded back across the South China Sea while flying over the Spratly Islands, another disputed area.
After over an hour, the Chinese plane began to pull away as the P-8 departed the area of the Paracel Islands. The US authorities said that encounters like the one that occurred over the South China Sea on Friday are now almost regular and are getting dangerous.
The South China Sea has emerged as a significant potential hotspot in recent years.
In December 2022, the United States disclosed that a Chinese jet fighter came close to a US surveillance plane over the South China Sea. But, Beijing alleged the US plane turned sharply toward the jet.
US Aircraft Flew Close To Chinese Warships
China has accused the US of spying, notably by flying patrol planes over the South China Sea. The resource-rich maritime area, which also serves as a major commercial route, is virtually entirely claimed by China.
China has constructed military facilities on artificial islands in the waters. This pits it against other regional nations with territorial claims and increases US concerns about trade routes and regional security.
Early this month, the Philippines said a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea attacked it with a military-grade laser.
US patrol planes fly over the South China Sea almost daily to challenge Chinese assertions of dominance over the area and to take photos of the fortification of man-made islands.
During the latest encounter, on February 24, the US Navy aircraft flew close to two Chinese destroyers—one north of the Philippines and the other about 38 nautical miles off the eastern coast of Taiwan, according to The Wall Street Journal.
CNN reported that a US Navy P-8 aircraft was flying close to the Philippines when it spotted a PLA Navy guided-missile warship and descended to around 1,000 feet to get a better look, prompting the PLA to issue additional warnings.
“US aircraft. US aircraft. This is the Chinese naval warship 173. You are approaching me at a low altitude. State your intention over,” said the Chinese destroyer.
The PLAN warship Changsha, a Type 052D destroyer, is likely outfitted with several surface-to-air missiles. The pilot of the US plane assured the Chinese vessel that it would maintain a safe distance.
“US aircraft. US aircraft. This is the Chinese naval warship 173. You are endangering my safety. You are endangering my safety,” the Chinese replied.
After conducting its operations, the US aircraft returned to Okinawa. The plane is one of seven P-8s from Patrol Squadron 10, based in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. The aircraft is currently on a six-month rotation in Japan.
The US military insists that American ships and aircraft often fly over areas where international law enables them. On the other hand, China asserts that the escalating tensions are caused by US activity in the South China Sea.