Two Chinese fighter jets made an "unsafe" interception of a US spy plane in the disputed South China Sea, the Pentagon said today as tensions between the two countries escalated over the strategically crucial waterway.
The "unsafe" interception of a United States EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, which the Pentagon said was on an international airspace over South China Sea, was carried out by two Chinese J-11 tactical aircraft.
The Chinese jets came within 50 feet of the American aircraft at one point, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said in a statement.
"We have made progress in reducing risk between our operational forces and those of the People's Republic of China by improved dialogue at multiple levels under the bilateral Confidence Building Measures and the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement," Davis said.
"Over the past year, we have seen improvements in PRC (People's Republic of China) actions, flying in a safe and professional manner. We are addressing the issue through the appropriate diplomatic and military channels," he said.
The interception comes days after General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a video teleconference with Chinese People's Liberation Army's chief of the Joint Staff Department General Fang Fenghui on efforts to reduce tensions in South China Sea.
Tensions between China and the US are high in the vital shipping route which is also believed to contain vast energy deposits.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, which claim is disputed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
Beijing has been building islets in the disputed region into artificial islands with military facilities including radar systems and airstrips.
The US has been dispatching its warships into the waters claimed by China to assert freedom of navigation.
America, which is embarked on a foreign policy "pivot" towards Asia, fears China is seeking to impose military controls over the entire region.
China opposes such action by the US, alleging that American intervention threatens its sovereignty and security, and also endangers the safety of people, besides harming regional peace and stability.