The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
News of the intercept comes as Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are in Beijing for the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Lew is pressing China to lower barriers to foreign business and cut excess steel production, with limited success.
The intercept also occurred just days after Defense Secretary Ash Carter and top military officials returned from a regional security meeting in Singapore. At a press conference during that meeting, Carter said the U.S. would not be deterred from maintaining a military presence in the region reiterating “America’s determination to, and resolve to, fly, sail, or operate wherever international law allows.”
During that same press conference, Adm. Harry Harris, the head of U.S. Pacific Command, said military relations with China were improving.
“We’ve seen positive behavior the last several months with China. Every now and then you’ll have a — you’ll see an incident in the air that we may judge to be unsafe. Those are really, over the course of time, rare,” Harris said.
Harris said China and the U.S. both will participate in a major upcoming military exercise.
But this latest intercept comes on the heels of another intercept by China last month.
In that encounter at least two Chinese J-11 tactical aircraft carried out an “unsafe” intercept of a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft that was conducting a routine mission in international airspace over the South China Sea, according to U.S. officials. The Chinese jets came within 50 feet of the U.S. aircraft at one point during that incident.
At the time, Beijing said the U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft flew close to China’s island province of Hainan and China’s jets “kept a safe distance throughout, without taking any dangerous actions.”
“It needs to be pointed out that American aircraft have constantly entered China’s coastal waters conducting reconnaissance, which has posed a serious threat to China’s maritime and air safety,” Hong Lei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said.