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China Jet Fighters Intercept American Plane; U.S. Calls Incident 'Unprofessional' -- 2nd Update

20 May 2017 6:18 am
By Ben Kesling and Josh Chin 

A pair of Chinese jet fighters intercepted a U.S. military plane over the East China Sea this week, the U.S. military said, describing the encounter as "unprofessional."

Two Chinese Su-30 fighter planes on Wednesday approached a U.S. WC-135 surveillance plane and flew near it, according to the U.S. military, which said the American plane was in international airspace. The two countries are addressing the matter privately through diplomatic and military channels.

"This interaction is considered unprofessional due to the maneuvers by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft, " Lt. Col. Lori Hodge, a U.S. Air Force spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday. She said further details of the matter aren't being discussed publicly, but that the two countries are reviewing the incident.

But China's Ministry of Defense said in a statement posted to its website late Friday that U.S. media accounts of the encounter "do not conform to the facts." It said the U.S. aircraft had been conducting surveillance over the Yellow Sea and that the Chinese aircraft responded by investigating in accordance with the law.

"The U.S. military's frequent reconnaissance activities are the root cause of security problems between Chinese and U.S. navy and air forces, " the statement said.

U.S. military officials declined to comment on the details of the interception or how the Chinese pilots maneuvered their planes, and didn't say whether the interaction was dangerous.

The U.S. plane, called a "Constant Phoenix," is used to identify the remnants of a nuclear detonation and can detect nuclear "clouds" in real time, according to an Air Force fact sheet. It picks up debris and particles in the air to detect atomic debris.

Both Beijing and Washington have been on alert for the possibility of a nuclear test by North Korea after a series of missile tests this year. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un indicated in January that he seeks to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental U.S.

Lt. Col. Hodge said the Air Force doesn't discuss specifics related to Constant Phoenix deployments but that missions "monitor compliance with international treaties governing nuclear testing, and to provide better understanding of the aftereffects of a nuclear incident."

The encounter comes roughly three months after a U.S. Navy P-3 spy plane and Chinese advance warning aircraft flew close to each other over the South China Sea. The U.S. military described that incident as "unsafe," but inadvertent, while China's Defense Ministry said the Chinese pilot had acted professionally.

Midair face-offs between Chinese and U.S. military aircraft are rare, but they can be fraught. A 2001 collision between a U.S. EP-3 and a Chinese jet fighter led to the death of the Chinese pilot and sparked a diplomatic crisis after the U.S. plane was forced to land on the Chinese island of Hainan.

The Constant Phoenix program was first launched by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower in 1947 when he assigned the Air Force the mission of detecting atomic explosions.

Write to Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com and Josh Chin at josh.chin@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 20, 2017 02:18 ET (06:18 GMT)

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