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China flexes its muscles in South China Sea again, comes dangerously close to US bomber

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, even though it is opposed by many Asian countries. A major clash can also involve the United States, which has vowed to defend its allies in case of any armed attack.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Bangkok Updated on: October 27, 2023 11:02 IST
A US B-52 bomber
Image Source : AP/FILE A US B-52 bomber

A Chinese fighter jet recently came within ten feet of a US B-52 bomber flying over the disputed South China Sea, according to the American military, raising concerns of a mishap as both countries are locked in a conflict to exert influence in the region.

The US Indo-Pacific Command on Thursday said that the Shenyang J-11 twin-engine fighter came dangerously close to the American bomber overnight at an “uncontrolled excessive speed, flying below, in front of, and within 10 feet" of the aircraft, threatening a potential collision.

“We are concerned this pilot was unaware of how close he came to causing a collision,” the military said. China's Foreign Ministry is yet to issue a statement but has previously asked the US to cease such flights over the South China Sea.

China's latest attempt comes amid its rising aggressiveness in the region, which has put it at odds with many South Asian countries and the United States itself. The US and its allies conduct regular manoeuvres in the South China Sea, including flying aircraft over the area to emphasize that the waters and airspace are international.

The B-52 was "lawfully conducting routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace" when it was intercepted by the J-11, said the US Indo-Pacific Command, adding that at least 180 intercepts have been reported since 2021, none being so close.

A collision would have had the potential to lead to an escalation in the ongoing tense relations between the US and China. The US military said that the incident would not change its approach. "The US will continue to fly, sail and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international laws allow," it said.

China in the South China Sea

Earlier, the US asserted that it would defend its allies in the South China Sea against any armed attack, a day after the Philippines on Sunday accused a Chinese coast guard ship and an accompanying vessel of ramming a Filipino coast guard ship and a boat carrying military supplies in two separate instances near the highly-contested Second Thomas Shoal.

Although no injuries were reported, the encounters damaged a Philippine coast guard ship and a wooden-hulled supply boat operated by navy personnel, officials said. Following the collisions, Philippine diplomats summoned an official from the Chinese embassy in Manila on Monday for a strongly worded protest.

This marks yet another flare-up in long-simmering territorial disputes between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea, one of the world's busiest trade routes. China has reportedly surrounded the Second Thomas Shoal with coast guard ships and militia vessels to prevent the Philippines from delivering materials or supplies to reinforce the long-marooned BRP Sierra Madre there.

Chinese coast guard ships have also blocked Filipino government vessels delivering supplies and personnel to the Philippine-occupied Second Thomas Shoal, resulting in near-collisions that the Philippine government has condemned and protested.

The Indo-Pacific region

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea, leading to territorial disputes with Japan and the Philippines. The growing Chinese aggression is also a major reason for US-China tensions.

India has also repeatedly called for an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region, the biogeographic region, comprising the Indian Ocean and the western and central Pacific Ocean, including the South China Sea, based on international norms.

(with agency inputs)

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