- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

Chinese warplanes challenged a U.S. reconnaissance jet Thursday over the South China Sea as the aircraft monitored exercises by the People's Liberation Army in southern China, Pentagon officials said.

Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that two Chinese J-8 fighters flew within two miles of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft.

"This is a reconnaissance aircraft, Air Force aircraft, well into international airspace, that was approached by two Chinese fighters," he said. "They did not come very close to the aircraft. I don't consider this a particularly unusual event."

Pentagon officials said the RC-135 was monitoring Chinese military exercises under way in southern China. The RC-135s usually fly in the region several times a month and are challenged by Chinese jets during a small portion of those flights.

The encounter comes at a time of heightened tensions between China and Taiwan following the election of a pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian, in Taiwan last month.

Beijing envoy Tan Shubei issued a new threat against Taiwan Thursday, warning Taipei it faces "disaster" and "hostility" if it fails to accept China's policy toward the island it views as a breakaway province.

Official Chinese news media earlier had reported that Mr. Tan had threatened to go to war, stating that "if they don't accept the 'one China' principle and that Taiwan is a part of China, then the result will not be peace, but war; not harmony, but confrontation; not good will, but enmity."

Adm. Quigley sought to play down the incident saying the Chinese, like other nations, often "send up aircraft to just have a look-see as to who is getting close to their airspace."

Adm. Quigley said the U.S. spy plane was far outside Chinese airspace and that the United States routinely operates "in international airspace around the world."

No U.S. warplanes were sent up to defend the RC-135 and it did not change course as a result of the encounter.

"I would mention that at no time did the U.S. aircraft feel the least bit threatened," Adm. Quigley said.

Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military with the Jamestown Foundation, said the incident appears similar to a Chinese submarine encounter with the U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk in 1995. Chinese jets intercepted U.S. aircraft that detected the submarine during that incident.

"These kinds of things have been increasing since that happened," Mr. Fisher said in an interview. As a result of China's military buildup, "the United States is going to have to be much more aggressive in reconnaissance of [People's Liberation Army] activities," he added. "I expect there will be many more opportunities for the PLA Air Force to intercept U.S. intelligence aircraft."

Defense officials said the RC-135 was seeking intelligence on possible Chinese military force redeployments from northern China, as well as on China's new command-and-control system known as Qu Dian.

The U.S. aircraft flight originated at the U.S. Air Force base at Kadena, Japan.

The RC-135, known as "hog" because of its extended nose, is a key intelligence collector for the U.S. military, used recently in the conflict in the Balkans. They can fly for up to 20 hours at a time and collect electronic-signals intelligence, such as military communications, at distances of hundreds of miles.

The J-8 is a twin-engine interceptor built by China based on the design of the Russian MiG-21. The most advanced version, the J-8 IIM, is armed with air-to-air missiles, and 30 mm cannon.

On Taiwan's newly elected leaders, Mr. Tan in Beijing said: "If they do not recognize that Taiwan is part of China and the one-China principle, this will lead to disaster instead of peace, confrontation instead of harmony, and hostility instead of good will." The remarks were carried by China's official Xinhua news agency.

A Taiwanese Defense Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that the Chinese military exercises were unusual and included bomber and fighter training as well as naval activities near the Diaoyu or Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

Thursday, however, Mr. Chen, the president-elect, said the military maneuvers were not unusual.

"Everybody can rest assured. Routine drills by the Chinese Communists are frequent, especially every April and May," Mr. Chen told a group of supporters. "Security units told me, the U.S. side told me, that there is nothing unusual. So we should not scare ourselves."

Asked about the exercises, Adm. Quigley said that "from what we have seen on mainland China, the level of effort is typical and seasonal."

The intercept of the RC-135 was first reported by Taiwan's ET Today Internet news service. The service quoted a Taiwanese general as saying it was the first time in three years that Chinese jets were scrambled to follow a U.S. reconnaissance jet.

U.S. officials, however, said the intercepts happen at least once a month.

In Beijing, a government spokesman said the exercises are part of training.

"As far as military exercises carried out by the People's Liberation Army, this is normal and is aimed at enhancing the capability of the Chinese military," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide