China’s naval commander vowed to keep intercepting U.S. military surveillance planes that come close to its coast while saying he wanted to avoid a repeat of a collision that downed two jets 13 years ago, killing a Chinese pilot.
“It’s become routine for the U.S. to conduct close-in surveillance of China and I don’t see the end of these activities; the U.S. won’t be the U.S. if they stop doing it,” People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Chief Admiral Wu Shengli told top U.S. Navy officials at an international forum in Newport, Rhode Island, according to a report in the state-owned Global Times. “But China’s counter-measures won’t end either.”
Wu said China doesn’t want “to sacrifice a second Wang Wei,” referring to the pilot killed in the 2001 crash off its southernmost Hainan Island.
China attended the 21st International Seapower Symposium for the first time less than a month after planes from the two countries had an encounter over the South China Sea. The Chinese presence at the 113-nation event underscores efforts to raise the international profile of its armed forces.
President Xi Jinping has pledged to turn China into a maritime power and make its military a modern fighting force as the country is involved in spats with neighbors Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan over disputed territory. China is also pushing back against a strategic “rebalance to the region” by U.S. President Barack Obama.
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s top officer, and Admiral Harry Harris, commander of its Pacific Fleet, hosted the symposium, at which navies will discuss enhanced coalition operations, maritime security and implications of climate change.
“None of us can address these challenges alone,” Greenert said in his opening address, according to the U.S. Navy’s website. “We just don’t have the resources. We need a coordinated effort including the resources, skills and awareness of participating navies to meet these challenges.”
Last month, the Obama administration formally protested what it described as a “provocation” by a Chinese fighter jet that buzzed within 20 feet of a U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft and did a barrel roll over international waters.
Admiral Wu asked the U.S. side to produce evidence to prove the accuracy of its claims, the Global Times reported today. “Just two photos can’t prove anything,” the paper quoted Wu as saying.
U.S. surveillance off China’s coast, particularly near the Hainan Island submarine base, has been a source of increasing friction between the two countries. Planes from the two nations have had several close encounters over the sea since March.
The damaged U.S.Navy EP-3 electronic reconnaissance plane is parked at Lingshui base on China's Hainan Island , Tuesday, April 3, 2001 in this photo released by China's official Xinhua news agency.
The Aug. 19 incident took place about 135 miles (217 kilometers) east of Hainan Island, the southernmost tip of China, amid international tensions over China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims. China has said its pilot acted professionally.
Wu told his American hosts that although China will continue to identify and closely check all reconnaissance activities off the Chinese coast, he didn’t want to see a repeat of the April 2001 Hainan incident when a Chinese fighter and collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane. The Chinese pilot Wang Wei was killed during the collision, which caused the first diplomatic crisis of President George W. Bush’s administration after the U.S. aircraft made an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
In Rhode Island, Wu refused to have a formal meeting with his Japanese counterpart on the sidelines of the forum, the Global Times said. Wu said it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to meet before a formal meeting between Xi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Xi and Abe haven’t met since Abe took office in December 2012 as tensions between their countries deepened over historical and territorial spats.