Chinese fighters intercepts US warplane over East China Sea
A US Air Force (USAF) WC-135 radiation detection plane was intercepted by two Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets over the East China Sea on May 17, according to the US military. The USAF WC-135 aircraft's crew has described the move as "unprofessional." It comes as China attempts at increasing its military presence and influence over the disputed region, which it claims as its territory.
What is the East China Sea dispute?
China-Japan ties have been strained by rival territorial claims over a group of islands, known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and the Diaoyu islands in China. These are eight uninhabited islands and rocks in the East China Sea occupying an area of about 7 sq km. They lie north-east of Taiwan, east of the Chinese mainland and south-west of Japan's Okinawa prefecture.
Role of US in the situation
The US and Japan forged a security alliance in the wake of World War II and formalized it in 1960. Under the deal, the US is given military bases in Japan in return for its promise to defend Japan in the event of an attack. This means if conflict were to erupt between China and Japan, Japan would expect US military back-up.
China's air-defence identification zone over disputed islands
In Nov 2013, China announced an East China Sea "air defence identification zone" which covers the Senkakus. This meant that it would require any aircraft in the zone, which covers the islands, to comply with rules laid down by Beijing.
US claims Chinese jets flew within 150ft USAF plane
A US official had earlier said the Chinese jets flew within 150 feet of the USAF aircraft. One of the Chinese SU-30s reportedly flew inverted directly above the American WC-135.
US to raise issue with China through appropriate channels
The USAF said it is investigating the incident. "The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels," it added. The USAF dubbed the intercept unprofessional "due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft." The WC-135 was conducting a routine mission over international space when the incident happened.
Why did the US deploy WC-135 jet?
The USAF's WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft "sniffs" the air for signs and distinctive elements of a nuclear test. Officials say the WC-135 regularly conducts routine missions in Northeast Asia to gather evidence of possible North Korean nuclear tests.
Close encounters between US and Chinese warplanes are rare
The interception was the second such incident between US and Chinese warplanes this year. In February, a US Navy P3 Orion surveillance plane experienced an "unsafe" close encounter with a Chinese military KJ-200 aircraft. Close encounters between US and Chinese warplanes are extremely rare. Last year, two such incidents took place while in 2015, there were none.