- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

The White House had nothing bad to say Thursday about China’s intercept of a U.S. patrol plane, an incident that occurred just days before President Obama will travel to Asia to foster closer economic ties with Vietnam and Japan.

“The Department of Defense is addressing this issue through the appropriate channels,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “I would hesitate to ascribe a motive at this point.”

The White House took pains not to characterize the incident, with Mr. Earnest saying only that unspecified “initial reports” termed the incident “unsafe.” He seemed more interested in highlighting a similar episode during the George W. Bush administration, which he called “a pretty significant … that resulted in a much more significant geopolitical incident.”

In that case in 2001, a mid-air collision between a U.S. Navy signals intelligence aircraft and a Chinese interceptor fighter jet resulted in an international dispute between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.

President Obama’s spokesman even credited Chinese military pilots with behaving more responsibly recently.

“Over the course of the last year, the Department of Defense has seen improvements in the way that Chinese military pilots fly, consistent with the international guidelines and consistent with the way that aircraft can be operated in a safe and professional manner,” Mr. Earnest said.

A Navy EP-3 Orion surveillance aircraft was conducting a routine mission Tuesday when J-11 Shenyang fighters intercepted the U.S. spy plane and flew within 50 feet of it. The incident occurred over international waters.

Mr. Earnest said the administration has reduced the risk of such incidents by engaging the Chinese military in talks “at multiple levels” under an agreement, and that more talks will be held later this month in Hawaii.

“So there is a well-established diplomatic and military channel to work through these kinds of concerns,” he said. “Presumably, in those channels, the Chinese officials can explain their perspective and what exactly occurred.”


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