China still verifying intercept incident with US aircraft

BEIJING - China's Defence Ministry said on Thursday it was still verifying what had happened in an incident last week which the Pentagon said involved a Chinese aircraft performing an unsafe manoeuvre during an air intercept of a US spy plane.

The intercept occurred on Sept. 15, about 80 miles (130 km) east of the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow Sea and involved an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane, said a Pentagon spokesman.

The spokesman said the intercept was not similar to an incident in August 2014, when a Chinese warplane flew as close as 20 to 30 feet (7 to 10 meters) to a US Navy patrol jet and conducted a barrel roll over the plane.

Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said China had always been committed to maintaining maritime and air safety in accordance with international laws and norms, and to establishing mutual military trust with other countries to appropriately manage differences.

"As for the detailed incident you mentioned, the relevant situation is still being further verified," Wu told a regular monthly news conference. He did not elaborate.

The news came as Chinese President Xi Jinping was beginning his first state visit to the United States.

The intercept was the latest in a series of moves by China seen as an assertion of the expanding reach of its military.

This month, five Chinese navy ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska as US President Barack Obama toured the US state.

Among the few concrete agreements expected to result from a summit between Xi and President Barack Obama later this week is a military-to-military confidence-building step aimed at reducing the risk of collisions between warplanes in areas such as the South China Sea through adoption of common rules of behaviour.

The two countries have already agreed to mutual reporting mechanisms on major military exercises and to a code of conduct to avoid dangerous air and sea encounters.

Wu said that last week China and the United States had agreed to two new annexes to help further reduce the risk of encounters ending badly, tightening up the existing agreement and adding some new operational details.