Pentagon rejects call to halt spy flights near China

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The Pentagon on Wednesday rejected China’s demand that all U.S. surveillance flights near China be halted after two Chinese fighter jets recently intercepted an American U-2 spy plane over the Taiwan Strait.

“We will continue to fly these missions in international airspace as a matter of freedom of navigation,” said Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman.

China’s Defense Ministry demanded an end to the U.S. military flights, according to a report Wednesday in the Global Times newspaper, part of the Communist Party-controlled news media.

“We demand that the U.S. respect China’s sovereignty and security interests, and take concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations,” the ministry said.

Chinese military expert Song Xiaojun told the newspaper that China can legitimately interrupt the flights. “Sending flights to intercept spying activities is essential to show China’s resolution to defend its sovereignty,” he said.

In China, such comments reflect official policy.

The Chinese demand followed this week’s disclosure of one of the most aggressive challenges by China to U.S. reconnaissance flights in months.

According to U.S. defense officials, two Chinese Su-27 jets chased a U-2 aircraft over the Taiwan Strait on June 29, and one jet crossed over the dividing line between Taiwan and the mainland along the 100-mile-wide waterway.

It was reportedly the first time since 1999 that a Chinese jet crossed over the line.

Two Taiwanese F-16s were scrambled to intercept the Chinese jet, which returned to the other side of the median line.

Col. Lapan’s statement echoed earlier remarks by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said the U.S. military would not back down from conducting surveillance flights.

Adm. Mullen said he discussed the reconnaissance flights during a recent visit to China and at earlier talks in Washington with Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde, chief of the general staff.

“This is international airspace, in this case, and we won’t be deterred from flying in international airspace,” he said.

Adm. Mullen said halting the reconnaissance flights and giving in to Chinese demands would violate long-established international rules for freedom of navigation.

“The Chinese would see us move out of there,” he said. “I don’t see that as the case. We’re not going to do that, from my perspective. These reconnaissance flights are important.”

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About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon ( He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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