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China Accuses U.S. of Distorting 21 December Near Miss

Vagaries of The People’s Liberation Memory

Responding to U.S. allegations that on 21 December 2022, a USAF RC-135 tanker operating over contested waters of the South China Sea was forced to take evasive action after being set upon and harassed by a People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLAN) J-11, Mr. Tian Junli, a spokesman for China’s Southern Theater Command, set forth that the United States had misled the public about the incident.

In a 28 December 2022 statement, Mr. Tian alleged the U.S. aircraft had violated international law, disregarded repeated warnings by China, and made dangerous approaches that threatened the safety of China's aircraft.

"The United States deliberately misleads public opinion... in an attempt to confuse the international audience," Tian prevaricated, adding, "We solemnly request the U.S. side to restrain the actions of frontline naval and air forces, strictly abide by related international laws and agreements, and prevent accidents in the sea and the air."

The disputed encounter followed what the U.S. and several of its NATO allies have called a recent trend of increasingly dangerous behavior by the Chinese communist government—members of which have intimated that the presence of U.S. military vessels and aircraft in the South China Sea is not good for peace.

Willfully indifferent to the spuriousness of hyperbolic claims, China asserts sovereignty over the entirety of the South China Sea—to include waters contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei.

Notwithstanding Beijing’s tacit threats and portentous saber rattling, U.S. military ships and planes routinely carry out surveillance operations within and over vast expanses of the South China Sea—the busy waterways of which sustain trillions of dollars in trade and overlay vast reserves of natural gas.

The U.S.’s apportionment of blame to China for the 21 December incident is substantiated by Australia’s defense department, which maintains that in May 2022, a Chinese J-16 fighter jet recklessly intercepted an Australian military P-8 surveillance aircraft in the South China Sea region, flying close in front of Aussie plane and releasing a bundle of chaff which was ingested by the P-8’s engines.

Canada, too, has accused the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of imprudence, stating that over several occasions spanning April and May 2022, PLAAF aircraft approached and harassed Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, occasionally forcing the latter to divert from their flight paths for purpose of avoiding potential collisions with the intercepting planes. In a formal statement, the Canadian Armed Forces set forth: “"In these interactions, PLAAF aircraft did not adhere to international air safety norms. These interactions are unprofessional and/or put the safety of our RCAF personnel at risk."

That Chinese warplanes antagonize NATO tankers and surveillance aircraft while steering well clear of U.S. fighters is a phenomenon meriting tactical, psychological, and moral consideration.  



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