Two Chinese fighter jets intercepted a US Navy surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea on Wednesday, according to a statement by the US Department of Defense. According to military expert Antony Wong Dong, the encounter happened near Shangchuan Island in Taishan, Guangdong, about 130km from Hong Kong.
The US plane was watching a Chinese submarine. The Pentagon insists the encounter, which it describes as "unsafe and unprofessional," happened in international airspace, 240km southeast of Hong Kong.
"We… will convey our concerns through appropriate channels with the Chinese government," Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander Gary Ross said in a statement.
According to Wong, if US planes continue to fly so close to Chinese soil, they may affect civilian aviation. He also pointed out that at least five major civilian airports are located in the nearby Pearl River Delta area.
"It's quite rare for US surveillance aircraft to fly so close to Hong Kong on an intelligence mission. I am afraid these kinds of unexpected encounters will happen more frequently," Wong said.
His sentiment was shared by Peter Lok Kung-nam, former Hong Kong civil aviation chief. According to Lok, military planes usually fly lower than civilian aircraft, but if military planes soar higher, security will be compromised.
"The safety of civil aircraft might be affected if those kinds of intercepts happen when military planes fly as high as civilian aircraft, or over 13,000 metres above sea level," he said, according to South China Morning Post.
The Wednesday intercept was the second encounter this month, as two Chinese Su-30 fighters also intercepted a US WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft in international airspace over the East China Sea earlier in May.