Chinese Fighter Jet Makes Dangerous Close Encounter with US B-52 Bomber in South China Sea
A Chinese fighter jet came perilously close to a US Air Force B-52 bomber during a routine flight over the South China Sea on Tuesday, according to the US Army. The Chinese pilot displayed reckless flying behavior, approaching the B-52 with excessive, uncontrolled speed and flying dangerously close, less than 3 meters away from the bomber. This put both aircraft at high risk of colliding, stated the US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) in a statement on Thursday. The US military expressed concern that the Chinese pilot seemed unaware of the potential catastrophe he narrowly avoided.
News of this recent Chinese interception coincides with an imminent meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the White House on Friday. While the nature of their meeting is unclear, it is expected to address the escalating tensions between the United States and China. Wang is also scheduled to meet with national security adviser Jake Sullivan during his visit.
Speculation surrounds a potential meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the upcoming APEC Summit in San Francisco next month. However, neither side has confirmed any plans for such a meeting.
The intensity of the dispute surrounding the South China Sea was further amplified when both the United States and China released images on Thursday, accusing each other of provocative maneuvers in the region. As disputes over the disputed sea route escalate, the United States and China have engaged in a war of words regarding their respective activities. In a video released during a press briefing, China’s Defense Ministry accused the USS Ralph Johnson of engaging in “close-quarters harassment” against a Chinese Navy task group conducting routine training in the South China Sea on August 19. In response, China’s Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian condemned the US warship’s actions, claiming that they jeopardized China’s national security. He emphasized that China will take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning supported Wu Qian’s statement, arguing that the US is responsible for endangering air and maritime safety due to its provocative actions.
The frequency of “coercive and risky” behavior by Chinese pilots towards American aircraft has increased remarkably in the past two years compared to the previous decade, according to Ely Ratner, the Pentagon’s top Indo-Pacific security official. Ratner revealed that over 180 such incidents have been recorded since fall 2021 alone. He characterized these incidents as a concentrated effort by China to coerce changes in America’s legal operational activities.
The lack of communication between the militaries of both countries is also a growing concern for US officials. The Pentagon’s attempts to engage with the Chinese military leadership have been met with silence, and Admiral John Aquilino of INDOPACOM expressed frustration at the lack of acceptance to his requests for dialogue. The disconnect between the two nations’ militaries worsened when Beijing severed communication channels following a visit to Taiwan by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which infuriated Chinese leaders.
China, steered by President Xi Jinping, claims undisputable sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea and has consistently displayed military power to assert its claims in the disputed waters and surrounding areas, including Taiwan. The Chinese military’s aggressive actions towards Taiwan have intensified in 2022, featuring ballistic missile overflights, incursion of military aircraft into Taiwan’s identification zone, and large-scale maneuvers near the island. Despite affirming a preference for peaceful reunification, President Xi has not ruled out the use of military force to achieve this objective.
The United States has identified China as a significant challenger in terms of military might, economic power, and international influence, as outlined in the latest National Defense Strategy. China boasts the world‘s largest navy, the region’s most substantial air force, and a permanent army composed of over a million soldiers.
The dangerous encounter between the US B-52 bomber and Chinese fighter jet serves as yet another chapter in the growing tensions between the United States and China, underscoring the urgent need for open dialogue and a resolution to prevent further escalations in the South China Sea and surrounding areas.
— Kathleen Magrama contributed to this report.