US accuses China of ‘coercive and risky’ behavior in the air over the Pacific

Oct 17, 2023, 5:32 PM

Images and video newly released by the Pentagon capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducti...

Images and video newly released by the Pentagon capture a PLA fighter jet in the course of conducting a coercive and risky intercept against a US asset in the East China Sea. (Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)

(Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)

(CNN) — 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, the Pentagon’s top official in charge of security in the Indo-Pacific said on Tuesday.

“Since the fall of 2021, we have seen more than 180 such incidents,” said Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.

To underscore the pattern, the Pentagon released previously nonpublic photos and videos of Chinese fighter jets intercepting US aircraft flying in international airspace.

The images, which date back to January 2022, show Chinese fighter jets getting dangerously close to US military jets in international airspace in an attempt to “intimidate” them, the Pentagon said in a statement about the incidents. Some of the Chinese fighter jets came within 20 feet of the US planes, the videos show.

“It’s a centralized and concerted campaign to perform these risky behaviors in order to coerce a change in lawful US operational activity,” Ratner added.

One photo from August 10 depicts a Chinese fighter jet closing in on a US jet, which had to perform “defense procedures” to avoid the Chinese plane that came within 50 feet and then “barrel-rolled” under the US plane, the Pentagon said.

Images newly released by the Pentagon capture a PLA fighter jet closing in at a high speed to a distance of just 50 feet underneath the wing of a US aircraft. (Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)

Images newly released by the Pentagon capture a PLA fighter jet closing in at a high speed to a distance of just 50 feet underneath the wing of a US aircraft. (Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs)

The photos and videos also show the Chinese jets releasing objects and projectiles, including flares.

“As Secretary Austin has said on multiple occasions, the [Chinese People’s Liberation Army] can and must stop this behavior, full stop,” INDOPACOM commander Adm. John Aquilino said Tuesday.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other Pentagon officials “have previously raised their concerns about this behavior in a range of settings, including during the Secretary’s engagements in 2021 and 2022 with General Wei Fenghe, then-Minister of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as well as the Secretary’s public remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2022 and 2023,” the Pentagon said.

But 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,” Aquilino said on Tuesday. “I have yet to have one of those requests accepted.”

The disclosure of the photos and videos comes as the Pentagon is preparing to release its congressionally mandated 2023 “Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China,” also known as the China Military Power Report. The report is an annual assessment that details the latest developments on China’s rapidly expanding and modernizing military. It also provides key insight into China’s nuclear program.

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US accuses China of ‘coercive and risky’ behavior in the air over the Pacific