US military chief warns China against ‘significantly’ increasing interception of aircraft

The top US military officer said China has become more aggressive in intercepting military aircraft and conducting unsafe air maneuvers over the past five years.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said China is conducting “serious intercepts” against US military aircraft and ships, and is also targeting Canada, Australia, Japan and other US partners.

“The number of China’s interceptions at sea and in the air has increased dramatically over five years,” Milley told the Financial Times and Associated Press on his plane as he flew to Asia on visits to Indonesia and Australia.

He said the Chinese military had become “significantly more aggressive in this particular region”.

Milley declined to provide specific numbers on the total number of accidents, but said the volume of unsafe intercepts – such as when a Chinese fighter jet approached a US plane – had risen “in equal proportions”. It was not clear to what extent the rise was due to China’s response to expanding US activity in the region.

In May, a Chinese J-16 fighter flew close to an Australian spy plane, releasing shells, including bits of aluminum, that were sucked into the engine of the P-8 surveillance plane.

Milley said he discussed unsafe interceptions when he spoke to his Chinese counterpart, General Li Jucheng, in the first call between the generals since President Joe Biden took office.

Lee responded by warning the United States not to engage in “provocations.” The Pentagon asserts that it operates in international waters and airspace, but China wants the United States to reduce its activity in the region.

The interceptions are just one of many contentious issues in the strained US-China relationship. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to hold a phone call in the coming days.

Beijing warned the United States after the Financial Times reported that Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, would next month visit Taiwan, a country claimed by China.

China has indicated it might respond with more than just talk if Pelosi visits Taipei, raising fears that Beijing could take military action, such as intercepting its fighter jets.

The White House is concerned that the visit has a possibility spark crisis across the Taiwan Strait.

Milley visited Jakarta on Sunday as part of the Biden administration’s effort to strengthen alliances in the Indo-Pacific. This push is designed in part to reassure countries that the United States intends to maintain a strong presence in the region to counter China.

Prior to his meeting with his Indonesian counterpart, General Andika Perkasa, Milley said Indonesia was “of strategic importance” to the Indo-Pacific region due to its size and geography. The four-star general is the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit Indonesia since Admiral Michael Mullen traveled to the archipelago in 2008.

Milley will travel from Indonesia to Australia to attend a regional meeting of military leaders. He will be accompanied by Admiral John Aquilino, chief of the US Indo-Pacific Division. Milley said the leaders would discuss the situation surrounding Taiwan.

Speaking about the conference, which will take place in Sydney on Tuesday and Wednesday, Milley said the “vast majority” of countries in the region want the US military to be involved.

“We want to work with them to develop interoperability and collectively modernize our militaries, in order to make sure that, geostrategically, we are able to meet whatever challenge China presents,” Milley said.

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