The close encounter between Chinese and American planes this week was probably unintentional, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday.
Capt. Jeff Davis said that a U.S. Navy P-3C Orion surveillance plane and a Chinese KJ-200, an airborne early warning aircraft, came within about 1,000 feet of each other on Wednesday over the South China Sea near Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese plane crossed the nose of the American plane, forcing the P-3C to “make an immediate turn.”
“Clearly we have our differences with China over militarization of the South China Sea, over their reclamation of the islands and some of their broader strategic objectives, but when it comes to simply the interactions, those are largely professional and safe,” Davis said. “This does seem to be a one-off, it doesn’t seem to indicate that it’s a change in their policy or strategy and our immediate assessment is that it was likely unintentional.”
The two pilots had radio contact after the incident, but Davis characterized that as “professional.”
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The encounter is being reviewed by the chain of command. While U.S. and Chinese planes do have a history of unsafe and unprofessional intercepts in the early 2000s, Davis said that “we don’t really see that so much anymore.”
In April 2001, an EP-3E Aries II collided with a Chinese jet, killing the pilot and forcing the American crew to land on Hainan Island. The crew of 24 were detained for 11 days.