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Chinese fighter jets conducted several hundred “risky and coercive” aerial intercepts against aircraft flown by America and its allies in the Indo-Pacific over the past two years, the US defence department said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Pentagon, Ely Ratner, the top Asia defence official, said the manoeuvres were not the acts of rogue pilots and instead a “centralised and concerted” effort by the Chinese military to pressure the US and its allies.

“The People’s Republic of China can and must end this behaviour,” Ratner said. “The US will not be coerced.”

Admiral John Aquilino, the head of US Indo-Pacific command, said militaries around the world conducted routine intercepts every day but that the vast majority of those interactions were safe.

“There is no reason for intercepts with the People’s Republic of China to be any different,” he said.

Intercepts are the military description for when an aircraft from another military comes close to a plane, usually as part of a shadowing action, especially when the intercepted plane is near another country’s airspace.

Ratner said the Chinese jets undertook 180 dangerous manoeuvres against American aircraft and 100 against aircraft flown by allies and partners of the US. The Pentagon also released a batch of photographs and videos to illustrate some of the actions that raise the odds of an accident in the air.

Ratner said the manoeuvres included fighter jets releasing chaff, which could harm aircraft engines. In other cases, they have flown very close in front of an aircraft, forcing it to fly through the wake, a manoeuvre known as thumping. On one occasion, a Chinese fighter flew within 30 feet of a US aircraft for 15 minutes.

The claims come as US-China relations are the worst in four decades. The two countries are discussing the possibility of a summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping if the Chinese leader attends the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in San Francisco next month.

Military-military relations are in an even more perilous state. China closed several military-to-military channels last year after then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Aquilino said he had been requesting meetings with his two Chinese counterparts for more than two years to no avail.

China refused an invitation in June for defence minister Li Shangfu to meet US defence secretary Lloyd Austin when they attended the Shangri-La Dialogue defence forum in Singapore. China refused a meeting because Li remains under sanctions imposed by the administration of Donald Trump.

However, Li has not been seen in public for almost two months. The Financial Times reported last month that the US government believes that he has been relieved of his post and is being investigated for corruption.

The Chinese embassy in Washington said China had taken “necessary measures” and told the Biden administration to stop “spreading disinformation”.

“US military vessels and aircraft conduct frequent close-in reconnaissance on China, including 657 sorties last year in the South China Sea alone,” said Liu Pengyu, the embassy spokesperson.

The US stresses that it flies in international airspace but Beijing objects because the American planes routinely gather intelligence on China.


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