Chinese and United States aircraft in 'unsafe' encounter

"On Feb. 8, an interaction characterized by U.S. Pacific Command as "unsafe" occurred in global air space above the South China Sea, between a Chinese KJ-200 aircraft and a U.S. Navy P-3C aircraft", it said.

The KJ-200 is an airborne early warning and control aircraft based originally on the old Soviet-designed An-12.

Major Robert Shuford, a spokesperson for US Pacific Command, said a US Navy patrol plane was involved in the interaction on Wednesday.

An official said that such incidents rarely occur and had occurred only twice in 2016. USA officials said the two aircraft came within 300 meters (984 feet) of each other.

Philippine Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong told the Beloit Daily News that Filipinos were "worried" about "possible miscalculations" between Chinese and USA forces. "The U.S. Navy P-3C was on a routine mission operating in accordance with worldwide law".

China's defense ministry defended the Chinese pilot's conduct in an interview with state media, saying the pilot had taken "legal and professional measures".

China's defense ministry also spoke about the incident and was blunt in reminding the U.S. of the tense relations that existed between the two countries at present.

During his confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the U.S. should take a harder line in addressing China's assertiveness in the South China Sea.

While the court a year ago largely rejected China's claims, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to mend ties with Beijing and the situation around the shoal has largely calmed down.

Last May, the Pentagon also labeled as "unsafe", a Chinese fighter plane that had intercepted a Navy surveillance plane over the South China Sea.

China and the Philippines have been locked in a standoff over the Scarborough Shoal since 2012, with both countries claiming sovereignty over the rich fishing grounds, along with Taiwan.

Worldwide relations between the US and China have also been on the downswing for the last few years, what with the newly elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, spending over a year (during his campaign) accusing China of "raping" the American economy of its manufacturing jobs, using "unfair" trade tactics, and manipulating the dollar in world markets.

The United States has said it does not take sides in territorial disputes.

China is deeply suspicious of any American military activity in the resource-rich South China Sea, while the U.S. has previously criticised the "militarisation" of maritime outposts and construction on a number of artificial islands and reefs.

  • Rogelio Becker