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ANALYSIS: Beijing intercepted US plane to display air power

Publication Date : 25-08-2014


A dangerously close intercept of a US Navy aircraft by a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea was an apparent demonstration of China’s air power aimed at underlining the unyielding determination of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government to establish air supremacy in the region.

Beijing considers air supremacy essential to secure its national maritime interests.

However, a statement issued Saturday night by a spokesman of China’s Defence Ministry countered the US claim of a “dangerous intercept.” The spokesman said, “The Chinese jet kept a safe distance from the US planes.”

“The US’s large scale and highly frequent close-in reconnaissance against China is the root cause of accidents endangering the sea and air military security between China and the United States,” the statement said.

In May and June, however, Chinese fighter jets also conducted dangerously close intercepts of Self-Defence Force planes in the East China Sea.

Nonetheless, a source in Beijing, who is familiar with the Chinese military, told The Yomiuri Shimbun, “I’ve never heard of any pilots being punished” for carrying out such provocative actions.

The source said nothing can stop such behavior because the Xi administration, which is trying to build Chinese air power that can compete with that of the US military, permits it.

At a meeting held in Myanmar in early August related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the United States demanded the suspension of China’s unilateral and provocative actions in the South China Sea. China responded strongly, leading to a heated argument between the two sides. Observers say China’s antagonism against the United States might have led to the latest dangerous intercept.

About a month before the Asean-related meeting, China finished oil drilling in waters off the Paracel Islands, which had created tension with Vietnam, earlier than originally scheduled in an apparent attempt to fend off pressure from the international community.

However, the continuation of the abnormally close intercepts indicates there is no change to Beijing’s basic policy of securing air and maritime supremacy in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

Meanwhile, Washington considers provocations by the Chinese military to have been made in an organized manner and is becoming increasingly irritated. There are growing concerns such behaviour may lead to an accidental military clash between the United States and China.

A Pentagon official said the latest incident is the most dangerous intercept since a Chinese military plane crashed in 2001 after colliding with a US Navy reconnaissance plane above waters off China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea.

Though any country is free to navigate in or fly above an Exclusive Economic Zone, Beijing regards its EEZs as maritime national territory similar to its territorial land. China also strongly opposes reconnaissance and patrol activities by the United States and other countries.

The latest abnormally close intercept, which took place within China’s EEZ, sheds light again on the hard-line stance of Beijing, which interprets international law and custom in a way that favors itself.


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