US Navy plane, Chinese jet have ‘unsafe’ encounter over South China Sea

A U.S. Navy patrol plane and a Chinese jet had an “usafe” encounter over the South China Sea earlier this week, the U.S. Pacific Command said Friday.

The “interaction” between the U.S. Navy P-3C plane and a Chinese KJ-200 took place on Wednesday in international airspace over the waters, Robert Shuford, a spokesman from the command, said in a statement . He didn’t specify what was unsafe about the encounter.

A U.S. official told Reuters that the aircraft came within 1,000 feet of each other near the Scarborough Shoal, which is located between the Philippines and the Chinese mainland.

Shuford said the U.S. plane was on a routine mission and operating according to international law.

The KJ-200 is a propeller airborne early warning and control aircraft which is based off the Soviet An-12.

He said the Department of Defense and the Pacific Command “are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces.”

“We will address the issue in appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” Pacific Command added.

Relations between China and the U.S. have gotten off to a rocky start in President Trump’s presidency and it could escalate in the South China Sea as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes office.

At his confirmation hearing, Tillerson likened China’s island building in the South China Sea to the annexation of Crimea by Russia – a sharp change intone from the Obama administration’s focus on cooperation.

Tillerson accused Beijing of “declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s.” He added that China’s actions were “extremely worrisome” and the U.S. failure to respond “has allowed them to keep pushing the envelope” in seas that carry $5 trillion of trade annually.

Beijing has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres of land and constructed military-grade infrastructure. Over the last year, has been fortifying its islands with surface-to-air missiles and fighter jet deployment. China has also flown its nuclear-capable bomber over the sea in an effort to intimidate the other countries that have territorial claims in the region.

“This is a threat to the entire global economy if China is allowed to somehow dictate the terms of passage through these waters,” Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January.

Asked if he supported a more aggressive U.S. posture, Tillerson replied, “You’re going to have to send China a clear signal that first the island building stops, and second your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.”