Watch: Chinese J-16 fighter jet cuts close to US RC-135 rattling its crew

The incident that happened on May 26 over the South China Sea

A Chinese J-11 military fighter jet flies above the Taiwan Strait near Pingtan | AP Representation. A Chinese J-11 military fighter jet flies above the Taiwan Strait near Pingtan | AP

Amid brewing tensions between China and the US, the US Air Force released a video on Tuesday showing a Chinese fighter cutting dangerously close to a US spy plane, causing the latter to fly through the wake turbulence of the intercepting aircraft. 

The footage of the incident that happened on May 26 over the South China Sea shows the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) J-16 fighter cut directly in front of the nose of the US RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft. The subsequent turbulence left the crew rattled and the US aircraft shuddering.

"A People's Republic of China J-16 fighter pilot performed an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver during the intercept of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 aircraft, May 26, 2023," said a statement from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

"The PRC pilot flew directly in front of the nose of the RC-135, forcing the U.S. aircraft to fly through its wake turbulence," said the statement. "The RC-135 was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law."

"The United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate — safely and responsibly — wherever international law allows, and the U.S. Indo-Pacific Joint Force will continue to fly in international airspace with due regard for the safety of all vessels and aircraft under international law."

According to an US official, the Chinese fighter swerved across the US aircraft's flight path at a distance of 400 feet.

This isn't the first time that PLA aircraft and vessels are "harrassing" the US jets and ships in the South China Sea, where  China constantly displays its military might.

According to a senior U.S. defense official, the Chinese harassment is coordinated and increasing in frequency. "We don't believe it's done by pilots operating independently," the official was quoted by ABC News. "We believe it's part of a wider pattern we see in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Strait, and elsewhere."

Last December, a PLA Navy J-11 fighter jet flew dangerously close to another US reconnaisance flight. The Chinese jet was within 10 feet of ar U.S. RC-135, forcing the Air Force pilot to undertake evasive maneuvers.

In February, a US plane flying 30 miles from the Chinese coastline was also ordered to leave as a Chinese fighter jet pulled up alongside to escort them out of the area. 

The relations between the two countries have hit a rock bottom after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to visit the self-governing island of Taiwan last August despite China's resistance. The US had also shot down a spy balloon last February after spotting it hovering over sensitive US military sites.

Though the US is looking to reengage with China, the latter rejected a proposal for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet with his Chinese counterpart Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue Security Forum in Singapore this week.

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