Chinese fighter jet got within 10 feet of US bomber over South China Sea, US military says

A Chinese fighter jet came within 10 feet of a US Air Force B-52 bomber flying over the South China Sea on Tuesday, according to the US military.

The Chinese pilot “flew in an unsafe and unprofessional manner, demonstrated poor airmanship by closing with uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet of the B-52, putting both aircraft in danger of collision,” US Indo-Pacific Command said in a Thursday statement. “We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision.”

News of the latest Chinese intercept comes as President Joe Biden is expected to speak with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when he visits the White House on Friday, CNN reported on Thursday. It is not clear whether the meeting will be a formal discussion or a more informal meet and greet. Wang is also expected to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday.

Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping may also meet on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco next month, though neither side has confirmed finalized plans.

The US and China on Thursday both released footage accusing each other of provocative maneuvers in and around the South China Sea, escalating tensions over the disputed waterway.

China’s Defense Ministry released a video during a regular press briefing, saying the USS Ralph Johnson “conducted close-in harassment” against a Chinese navy task group doing routine training in the South China Sea on August 19.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said the video “shows that the US side is the real provoker, risk-taker and disrupter.” Wu said the US warship’s actions “endanger China’s national security” and added China would “take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard national sovereignty.

“US fighter jets coming all the way to flex their muscles at our doorstep is the root cause of aviation and maritime safety risks,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in response to a question for comment on the incident during a regular briefing on Friday.

The Pentagon’s top official in charge of security in the Indo-Pacific, Ely Ratner, said earlier this month that the US has seen more instances of “coercive and risky” behavior from Chinese pilots against US aircraft in the last two years over the East and South China Seas than in the entire decade before that.

“Since the fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents,” Ratner said. “It’s a centralized and concerted campaign to perform these risky behaviors in order to coerce a change in lawful US operational activity.”

The Pentagon’s efforts this year to engage with Chinese military leadership have gone unanswered, and US officials have grown increasingly concerned about the lack of military-to-military dialogue between the countries. Beijing cut off the communications after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last year, infuriating Chinese leaders.

“I’ve asked to speak with my counterparts, the eastern and southern theater commanders now, going on two and a half years,” INDOPACOM commander Adm. John Aquilino said earlier this month. “I have yet to have one of those requests accepted.”

As part of the latest National Defense Strategy, the US has pointed to China as the “pacing challenge,” capable of competing with America in terms of its military might, economic power and international reach. Beijing already possesses a standing army of more than one million soldiers, the largest navy in the world by number of ships and the largest air force in the region.

Beijing claims “indisputable sovereignty” over almost all of the South China Sea, and uses its military might to assert its claims of sovereignty in the disputed waters and beyond, including Taiwan.

In 2022, the Chinese military increased its aggressive actions towards the island, including ballistic missile overflights, military aircraft flying into Taiwan’s aerial identification zone and major exercises near Taiwan. Though Xi has said he is seeking the peaceful unification of Taiwan with China, he has not renounced the use of military force to achieve his goal.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Adm. John Aquilino’s name.

CNN’s Kathleen Magramo contributed to this report.

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