As President Xi Jinping arrives in the U.S. to court American tech titans in Washington State and readies for an official State Dinner at the White House, reports of a Chinese JH-7 fighter executing a dangerous intercept on an American RC-135 electronic surveillance aircraft last week over the Yellow Sea have surfaced.
The event happened on September 15th as an RC-135 was operating approximately eighty miles to east of the Shandong Peninsula. JH-7 fighters intercepted the jet and one performed a aggressive maneuver directly in front of it. The Pentagon has not gone into detail of exactly what the jet did, but stressed that the maneuver was perceived as “unsafe.”
Senator John McCain played up the incident while the Pentagon seemed to be playing down:
“Yet another dangerous Chinese intercept of a U.S. aircraft last week shows that China feels emboldened to continue its pattern of aggressive behavior in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Just a year ago, another aggressive Chinese intercept left a Navy P-8 Poseidon crew in worrying for their lives.
Meanwhile, in the South China Sea, it appears that one of China’s larger reclaimed island outpost’s runway is finished, with other island building projects in the region also nearing conclusion.
These islands are likely to serve as everything from anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft and fighter jet bases to radar installations with forward deployed naval vessels, and even platforms for long-range anti-access missile systems. Once finished, they could allow China to “switch off” shipping through the strategic waterway on a whim.
These development underline the recent increase in friction between the U.S. and China. While President Obama and President Xi Jinping are supposed to facilitate the two countries working out an agreement to stop the constant cyber warfare attacks on key U.S. Government institutions, traditional geopolitical tensions in the Pacific region remains an equally volatile realm.
The timing of China’s latest aggressive intercept is interesting as the country has been known to send strategic signals leading up to and during key diplomatic events with the United States. Just one example would came last month when China sailed a flotilla through the Aleutian Islands for the very first time while President Obama was touring Alaska.
President Xi Jinping himself was recently the centerpiece of a massive military spectacle that marked the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan during World War II. During the elaborate ceremony that ran through Tiananmen Square, throngs of conventional forces, including thousands of troops, hundreds of pieces of armor and a sky full of aircraft were on display. But most notable were China’s expanding ballistic missile arsenal, both nuclear and conventional, that Chinese forces paraded with pride as Xi Jinping looked-on stoically with Vladimir Putin by his side.
And this is the atmosphere for what will be one of the most critical and controversial State Dinners in recent history. Can the decaying U.S.-Chinese relationship be turned around through old-school diplomacy or will this State Dinner be a hollow and chilly display, one that will only cement many’s concerns over China’s murky agenda.
Contact the author at Tyler@jalopnik.com.
Photos via AP, photo of JH-7 via wikicommons/26White