China has lodged “stern representations” with the United States, accusing it of sending a U-2 reconnaissance plane into a no-fly zone over Chinese live-fire military drills, further ratcheting up tensions between Beijing and Washington.
China has long denounced US surveillance activities, while the United States has complained of “unsafe” intercepts by Chinese aircraft. While such missions happen regularly, it is unusual for China to talk about them publicly.
China’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that the U-2 flew without permission over a no-fly zone in the northern military region where live fire drills were taking place, “seriously interfering in normal exercise activities”.
This could easily have caused a misunderstanding or misjudgment or an “unexpected incident”, the ministry added.
“It was an act of naked provocation, and China is resolutely opposed to it, and have already lodged stern representations with the US side.”
While it did not say exactly where the incident took place, China is currently carrying out drills in the Bohai Sea. Other exercises are also happening in the Yellow Sea and South China Sea.
The Chinese ministry added that the US move ran counter to China-US rules on behaviour at sea and in the air and international norms.
“China demands the US side immediately stop this kind of provocative behaviour and take actual steps to safeguard peace and stability in the region.”
In a statement, the US military said a U-2 flight had been conducted in the Indo-Pacific region, adding that it was “within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights”.
“Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing,” it said in the statement.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have worsened over everything from trade and human rights to what the United States sees as aggressive moves by China’s armed forces, especially in the disputed South China Sea and around Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
In April 2001, an intercept of a US spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet resulted in a collision that killed the Chinese pilot and forced the American plane to make an emergency landing at a base on the southern Chinese island of Hainan.
The 24 US air crew members were held for 11 days until Washington apologised for the incident.