A senior US defence official said there has been an “alarming increase in the number of risky aerial intercepts and confrontations at sea” by Chinese aircraft and ships – actions that “have the potential to create an unsafe incident or miscalculation”.
“We don’t believe it’s done by pilots operating independently,” the official said. “We believe it’s part of a wider pattern.”
A similar incident involving a Chinese jet and a US RC-135 took place in December, forcing the American plane “to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision”, INDOPACOM said at the time.
The announcement on the latest incident came a day after the Pentagon said Beijing had refused a US invitation for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet his Chinese counterpart in Singapore later this week.
But the senior official said the timing of the announcement was unrelated to China’s refusal of the invitation, explaining that information about the aircraft incident “was subject to the US military declassification process and US diplomatic communication process”.
Austin and other US officials have been working to shore up alliances and partnerships in Asia as part of efforts to counter increasingly assertive moves by Beijing, but there have also been tentative signs that the two sides were working to lower the temperature.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi met in Vienna earlier this month, and President Joe Biden later said that ties between Washington and Beijing should thaw “very soon”.
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