China says its pilot maintained safe distance from US aircraft

On Saturday, China called US criticism of an approach by one of its jets to a US Navy patrol plane 'completely groundless.' The Obama administration on Friday accused a Chinese fighter jet of conducting a 'dangerous intercept.'

By , Reuters

China on Saturday called US criticism of an approach by one of its jets to a US Navy patrol plane off the Chinese coast earlier this week "completely groundless" and said its pilot had maintained a safe distance from the US aircraft.

The strongly-worded statement attributed to Ministry of National Defense spokesman Yang Yujun was a response to a diplomatic complaint the Pentagon filed with Beijing on Friday.

The complaint concerned an August 19 encounter about 135 miles east of China's Hainan Island in which a Chinese fighter jet came within yards of a US P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine and reconnaissance plane and, the US claimed, performed acrobatic maneuvers around it.

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In its statement, the Chinese defense ministry said the J-11 jet was conducting routine checks and described the pilot's actions as professional.

The United States' frequent short-range reconnaissance missions threatened the safety of both militaries, it said.

It urged the US to reduce short-range reconnaissance against China and to respect international law and conventions.

The Obama administration on Friday accused a Chinese fighter jet of conducting a "dangerous intercept."

The Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Washington protested to the Chinese military through diplomatic channels, calling the fighter pilot's actions "unsafe and unprofessional." And U.S. officials said this is at least the second formal complaint American diplomats have filed with the Chinese over these military actions in recent months.

At a news briefing at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where President Barack Obama is vacationing, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, called the intercept "a deeply concerning provocation" and suggested it could set back efforts to improve relations.

"What we've encouraged is constructive military-to-military ties with China, and this kind of action clearly violates the spirit of that engagement," Rhodes told reporters.

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