A senior Chinese military official in Beijing told President Obama’s visiting national security advisor to end “close-in reconnaissance” less than a month after an armed Chinese fighter jet conducted an aggressive midair intercept of a U.S. Navy aircraft.
According to a report Tuesday by China’s state-run New China News Agency, Chinese official Fan Changlong advised Susan Rice that the U.S. military “should reduce and ultimately stop” its spy missions on China.
The comment, a reflection of an opinion long held by the Chinese government, was made to Rice on the last day of a three-day visit to China to discuss expanding partnership between the two nations.
“We hope the U.S. can promote the healthy development of new China-U.S. military ties with concrete actions,” Fan is reported to have said.
Rice, a former U.S. United Nations ambassador, met with Chinese government and military leaders in anticipation of Obama’s visit to the country and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit there in November.
She discussed long-term strategic and economic interests of the U.S. and China with president Xi Jinping.
But one subject that came up with the military was a U.S. spy plane encounter Aug. 19.
At the time, the Pentagon said a Chinese twin-engine J-11B fighter intercepted a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon submarine-hunting aircraft over international waters about 135 miles east of Hainan island in the South China Sea.
The fighter allegedly made three passes dangerously near the U.S. plane, at one point putting their wingtips as close as 30 feet apart. The encounter ended with the Chinese pilot doing a barrel roll over the top of the U.S. plane.
The Obama administration lodged a protest with China through official diplomatic channels. But the Chinese said there was no wrongdoing on its part.
The aerial challenge recalled the collision in April 2001 of a Chinese fighter jet and a Navy EP-3 surveillance aircraft, the predecessor to the P-8 Poseidon, about 70 miles east of Hainan island.
In that case, the Chinese pilot was killed and the American plane was forced to make an unauthorized emergency landing at a Chinese air base on Hainan. Chinese authorities held the 24 crew members for 11 days, and eventually returned the disassembled aircraft after stripping it of equipment.
Since then, the Chinese government has been sensitive to U.S. reconnaissance missions. The Pentagon has been resolute that it will not stop carrying out what it calls routine flights.
“We’re going to continue to fly in international airspace the way we’ve been, just like we’re going to continue to sail our ships in international waters the way we’ve been,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said last month. “The United States is a Pacific power; we have responsibilities: five of seven treaty alliances in the Pacific region. We’re going to meet those security commitments.”
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