Tensions rise as China denies intercepting US jet
Claims that two Chinese fighter jets carried out an "unsafe" intercept of a US military aircraft over the South China Sea were rejected by Beijing yesterday.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that one of its reconnaissance aircraft was intercepted the previous day when it was carrying out a "routine US patrol" in international airspace.
But Chinese foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the Chinese aircraft kept a safe distance from the US plane.
He also repeated calls that had previously been made by Beijing for the US to stop spying activities in nearby waters.
China claims almost all the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion (€4.5 trillion) of world trade passes every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
The latest incident - which was said to have taken place near China's southern island of Hainan - comes a week after Beijing scrambled fighters to a disputed reef in the South China Sea as a US ship sailed nearby.
Washington also raised concerns over China's military in 2014 when it claimed a Chinese plane made a "dangerous" pass near a US aircraft - performing a barrel roll, apparently to display its weapons.
The Pentagon statement said the Department of Defence (DoD) was addressing the latest incident through military and diplomatic channels.
"Over the past year, DoD has seen improvements in PRC actions, flying in a safe and professional manner," the Pentagon statement said, using an acronym for the People's Republic of China.
Rival territorial claims in the South China Sea have been a major source of friction between China and its neighbours, particularly Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Tensions have mounted as an increasingly assertive China transforms hotly contested South China Sea reefs into islands capable of supporting military infrastructure. (© Daily Telegraph, London)