01:26 - Source: CNN
Trump and China: What's at stake?

Story highlights

The intercept took place approximately 80 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland in international airspace

Sunday's incident follows a series of Chinese intercepts of US aircraft over the last few months

CNN —  

A Chinese fighter jet performed an “unsafe” intercept of a US plane Sunday while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea, according to a Pentagon spokesman, the latest in a series of similar encounters in the region.

The Chinese J-10 fighter jet was armed and came as close as 300 feet in front of the US EP-3 reconnaissance plane, causing the Navy aircraft to take “evasive action,” a US defense official told CNN. The official added that a second armed J-10 Chinese fighter jet was involved in the intercept but only one of the aircraft acted in a “unsafe” way.

The “EP-3, flying in international airspace in the East China Sea, was intercepted by two Chinese J-10s,” US Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday at the Pentagon.

Davis said the “unsafe” behavior involved one of the Chinese fighters flying underneath the US aircraft “at a high rate of speed,” and then slowing and pulling up in front of the US plane, prompting the EP-3’s traffic collision avoidance system to go-off and forcing the American pilot to “to take evasive action to prevent the possibility of collision.”

The intercept took place approximately 80 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland in international airspace, according to the US official.

China maintains an “Air Defense Identification Zone” over much of the East China Sea, something the US does not recognize.

Another US official confirmed to CNN that the “unsafe” intercept occurred and said “encounters like this, ones that show a lack of control by the Chinese pilot, do nothing but increase the risk of miscalculation.”

’Uncharacteristic’ behavior

Sunday’s incident follows a series of Chinese intercepts of US aircraft over the last few months.

In May, two Chinese J-10s similarly intercepted a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea in what the US Navy described as an “unsafe” maneuver. Earlier that month, a US official told CNN that a Chinese Su-30 jet flew “inverted” over a US Air Force WC-135.

“This is uncharacteristic of the normal safe behavior we see from the Chinese military,” Davis said.

The incident comes just days after the Navy’s top officer, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, held a video teleconference with his Chinese counterpart, Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong. The two naval chiefs discussed “naval engagements” as well as North Korea, according to the US Navy readout.

Perhaps the most famous encounter between a US EP-3 and a Chinese aircraft occurred in 2001 when a Chinese J-8 fighter collided with the US plane, forcing the EP-3 to conduct an emergency and prompting an international dispute between Washington and Beijing.

China’s military has taken a more active role in recent months. Beijing and Delhi are in the midst of an ongoing territorial dispute in the Himalayas, with a People’s Liberation Army spokesman warning Monday it was “easier to move a mountain than the PLA.”

Meanwhile, one of China’s most-advanced warships is currently leading a flotilla to the Baltic Sea, where it will engage in exercises with the Russia Navy, the first ever joint operation by the two militaries in European waters.

The Liaoning, China’s only active aircraft carrier, has also been dispatched to the open Pacific. Chinese state media said this was a sign the Liaoning’s combat capability has been enhanced and its areas of operation expanded, and could soon include the Eastern Pacific, including off the US West Coast.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed reporting.