The U.S. military has reported that a Chinese fighter jet flew dangerously close to an Air Force plane in an effort to intercept it. The Chinese jet "performed an unsafe maneuver" flying only approximately 20 feet in front of the American plane's nose, The New York Times reports. In turn, the Air Force plane had to take "evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision."
The incident occurred over the South China Sea on Dec 21, where the U.S. was "lawfully conducting routine operations." While the sea is considered international waters, China has long claimed that it belongs fully to the country, reports The Associated Press. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin commented, "We've seen a sharp increase in the number of dangerous PLA intercepts of U.S. and allied forces ... that were operating lawfully in international airspace over the South and East China Seas," referring to the military wing of China's Communist Party.
The U.S. chose to wait several days before disclosing the encounter "to verify details, obtain and declassify imagery and make proper notifications to other government agencies." The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not directly respond to the incident at hand. Rather spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, "The United States' provocative and dangerous actions are the root cause of maritime security issues."
Wang also called out the U.S's arms sales in Taiwan, which has been a source of tension between the countries. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also been more firm in his stance against Taiwan's independence.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that it, "expect[s] all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law."