A Chinese fighter and a guided-missile destroyer in the South China Sea warned a US military reconnaissance plane away from Chinese airspace in a heart-stopping confrontation caught on camera.
The US aircraft was 30 miles from any airspace considered Chinese property, including the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, but the Chinese military appears proactive in defending territory far removed from its jurisdiction in what could be considered a threatening maneuver.
The American pilot first knew something was wrong when a thunderous voice claiming to belong to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) suddenly blared over the radio.
‘American planes. Chinese airspace is 12 nautical miles. Do not get any closer, or you will take full responsibility,” the message read.
Lt. Nikki Slaughter, who was piloting the American Boeing 737-like plane, quickly responded to the radio transmission just as a Chinese plane armed with air-to-air missiles approached them.
The encounter was so close that the red stars of the Chinese military symbol could be seen on the pilot’s helmet and on the side of the plane.
PLA fighter jet, this is the US Navy P-8A… I have you off my left wing and intend to proceed west. I ask you to do the same, over.”
There was no response, but the Chinese pilot continued to escort the US plane for another 15 minutes from just 500 feet away, in what could be seen as a clear sign of rising tensions between the two countries, each flexing their military muscle.
Later in the mission on Friday, still over the South China Sea but this time closer to the Philippines, the US Navy’s P-8 Slaughter aircraft spotted a Chinese Navy Guided Missile Destroyer (PLA), probably armed with dozens of surface-to-air missiles.
The American aircraft descended to 1,000 feet and received new warnings from the PLA.
US aircraft This is the Chinese naval warship 173. It is approaching at a low altitude. State your intentions,” a Chinese-accented voice said in English over the radio.
Lt. Slaughter replied that the US plane would keep a safe distance from the ship.
American plane. American plane. Here is the 173 warship of the Chinese navy. You are jeopardizing my safety. You are clearly endangering my safety,” the Chinese vessel stated. I am a United States military aircraft. I will keep a safe unit distance from him,’ Slaughter replied again.
The US Navy says such missions are routine, though Commander Hines says the radio silence from the Chinese is disturbing.
When there is no answer, questions arise. Do you understand what we say? Do they understand our intentions? Do they understand that we don’t want to do harm?
In recent years, the South China Sea has become a potential flash point in the Asia-Pacific due to territorial disputes between China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan over islands such as the Paracels.
The region is home to important resources, such as fish, oil, and gas, and about a third of the world’s maritime transport passes through it, valued at about 3.4 trillion dollars in 2016.
China continues to claim its historic jurisdiction over almost the entire sea and has been building artificial islands with missiles, landing strips, and weapon systems since 2014.
The islands have a civilian population inhabiting them, and their only purpose seems to be tactical and military control of the area.
Some 1,400 Chinese military personnel are believed to be working on the islands, around which China claims airspace of 12 nautical miles. The United States does not recognize this claim.
China regularly holds military exercises across the South China Sea and continues to maintain a large coast guard and fishing vessel presence in the disputed waters, further stoking tensions with its neighbors.