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U.S. Navy is seeing extra ‘unsafe’ aerial intercepts by China, says Seventh Fleet commander

U.S. Navy P-Eight Poseidon plane.

Nurphoto | Nurphoto | Getty Pictures

SINGAPORE — The commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet mentioned on Tuesday that he is seen a rise in “unsafe” aerial intercepts by the Chinese language army within the South China Sea area.

As not too long ago as Might, a Chinese language fighter plane allegedly intercepted a Royal Australian Air Drive P-Eight maritime surveillance airplane within the South China Sea area in a way that Australia’s protection division mentioned was “harmful” to its plane and crew. The division mentioned the Chinese language plane fired chaff that was sucked into the Australian airplane’s engine.

“This reported enhance within the air is clearly regarding… it is not a really forgiving surroundings if one thing goes improper if you’re flying within the air,” Karl Thomas mentioned.

The Chinese language embassy in Singapore didn’t instantly reply to CNBC’s request for remark.

Thomas mentioned in a press briefing in Singapore that preserving sea lanes open is the “at first” mission of the U.S. Navy.

“Sea lanes are the lifeblood of our economies … having open sea lanes and having delivery that may function … is extraordinarily vital to maintain the economic system working,” the vice admiral mentioned.

About 80% of worldwide commerce quantity was carried by sea in 2021, in response to the United Nations Convention on Commerce and Improvement.

The South China Sea holds among the world’s busiest business delivery lanes. China claims sovereignty over nearly the entire physique of water, although different international locations together with the US don’t acknowledge that declare and it hasn’t held up in a courtroom of worldwide arbitration.

Harmful intercepts stay ‘rare’

Thomas was cautious to notice that harmful aerial intercepts stay uncommon.

“We’re not seeing it occur very incessantly. It is not like day-after-day, one thing’s occurring. It is an rare motion,” he mentioned. “And you then begin asking your self — is it as a result of it is an unprofessional pilot? Or is it one thing that is extra broad than that?”

The commander defended so-called “freedom of navigation” operations by the US and different international locations as a part of a rules-based order in accordance with the United Nations Conference on the Legislation of the Sea.

He maintained that China’s claims over the South China Sea must be “challenged.”

“If you happen to do not problem it, the issue is that it will change into the norm … Individuals simply settle for it. After which swiftly, individuals could make claims like your complete South China Sea is their territorial sea.”

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