US says Chinese fighter jet risked major accident by flying 10ft from B-52 bomber in South China Sea

A Chinese fighter jet came dangerously close to a US bomber over the South China Sea, the US military has said, amid concerns over Beijing's growing aggression around the disputed waters.

A Chinese J-11 twin-engine fighter jet came within 10 feet of the American B-52 aircraft nearly causing an accident on 24 October, the US military said in a statement.

The Chinese jet flew in front and below the American bomber in an "unsafe and unprofessional manner" with “uncontrolled excessive speed" that put both aircraft in "danger of collision", the military added.

"We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision."

The incident took place at a time when the relationship between the world’s two largest economies is strained over a range of issues including Taiwan, China's human rights record and its increased military activity in the South China Sea.

Beijing has asserted claims to the entire sea as its own, denying the claims of other Southeast Asian countries and defying an international ruling. In order to assert its sovereignty, China continues to fortify islands in the disputed region.

The Chinese foreign ministry responded by pinning the blame on the US, accusing it of flying the aircraft over the sea in an effort to deliberately provoke.

File: A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies during the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition 2023 (AP)
File: A US Air Force B-52 bomber flies during the Seoul International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition 2023 (AP)

“The US military planes traveled thousands of miles to China’s doorstep to flex muscle,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning. “That is the source of maritime and air security risks, and is not conducive to regional peace and stability.”

The US military argued that the aircraft was “lawfully conducting routine operations” ahead of the incident on Tuesday, but did not immediately respond to questions about specifically what the B-52 was doing over the South China Sea.

After a similar incident in May, the Chinese government dismissed American complaints and demanded that Washington end such flights over the South China Sea.

Last week a Chinese coast guard ship and an accompanying vessel rammed a Philippine coast guard vessel and a military-run supply boat off a contested shoal in the waterway.

Following that incident, US president Joe Biden renewed a warning that the US would be obliged to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, aircraft or vessels come under armed attack.

China responded by saying the US had no right to interfere in Beijing’s disputes with Manila.

Intercepts are common, with the US saying that there have been more than 180 such incidents since the autumn of 2021, the Associated Press reported.