Beijing on Thursday rejected Pentagon accusations that a Chinese aircraft made an “unsafe” intercept of a spy plane in international air space, as tensions rise in the strategically vital South China Sea.
Rivalry between China and the United States is mounting in the disputed waterway, an important shipping route thought to be home to vast energy deposits, and which Beijing claims almost in its entirety.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) said that two Chinese tactical aircraft intercepted an American reconnaissance plane in an “unsafe” manner, without giving details.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday the description was “untrue”.
Two Chinese aircraft tailed a US EP-3 reconnaissance plan as it “flew close” to the island province of Hainan, he said, but kept “a safe distance” and did not make “dangerous moves”.
Such US flights were a “severe threat” to Chinese security, he added, calling for Washington to stop them immediately.
The incident comes more than a decade after a collision between a Chinese fighter jet and a US Navy EP-3 which killed the Chinese pilot and forced the US aircraft to make an emergency landing on Hainan.
A 11-day standoff ensued as Beijing interrogated the 24 US crew, seriously straining relations between the countries, and China went on to hold the plane for several months.
The two have traded accusations and warnings over such surveillance flights in subsequent years.
Beijing has been building islets in the South China Sea into artificial islands with military facilities including radar systems and airstrips.
Regional neighbours such as Vietnam and the Philippines have rival claims and the United States says China’s assertions have no basis in law.
Washington—which has embarked on a foreign policy “pivot” towards Asia—fears Beijing is seeking to impose military controls over the entire area.