China has refuted the US military’s claims that a People’s Liberation Army – Navy (PLAN) J-11 pilot carried out ‘unsafe manoeuvres’ above the South China Sea.

The US Indo-Pacific Command on 29 December, released a statement claiming that a Chinese J-11 aircraft’s pilot conducted ‘unsafe’ drills to intercept a US Air Force’s (USAF) RC-135 aircraft.

“The PLAN pilot flew an unsafe manoeuvre by flying in front of and within 20ft of the nose of RC-135, forcing RC-135 to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid a collision,” the statement added.

The US informed that the incident happened on 21 December, while RC-135 was ‘lawfully’ carrying out its routinely operations in the international airspace above South China Sea. 

Denying US military’s claims, Chinese PLA Southern Theater Command issued a statement on 1 January stating that the US is attempting to ‘distort the facts’ to ‘mislead’ public opinion.

According to PLA Southern Theater Command spokesperson Air Force senior colonel Tian Junli, the USAF’s aircraft was intentionally performing close-in reconnaissance activities in China’s southern coastline and Xisha Islands of Hainan province region.

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In response, the PLAN deployed its air assets, including J-11 fighter aircraft, to track and monitor the activities of RC-135, which according to Junli, was ‘abruptly changing its flight attitude’.

Junli added: “Such a dangerous approaching manoeuvre seriously affected the flight safety of the Chinese military aircraft, seriously violating the US-China memorandum of understanding on the Rules of Behaviour for Safety of Air and Maritime Encounters and relevant international laws and practices.

“We sternly demand the US side to restrain the operations of its front-line air and naval troops, strictly abide by relevant international laws and agreements, and prevent any accidental event at sea and in the air.”