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Security

US, Chinese aircraft in 'unsafe' encounter over South China Sea

China's Defense Ministry has told state media that the US should eliminate "the root causes of accidental incidents." A US defense official said aircraft came within 300 meters of each other over the strategic sea.

The US Pacific Command on Friday said a Chinese early warning aircraft and a US Navy patrol plane experienced an "unsafe" encounter over the South China Sea, marking the first of its kind under President Donald Trump's administration.

The American aircraft had been on a "routine mission operating in accordance with international law," Pacific Command said in a statement.

The two aircraft came within approximately 300 meters (1,000 feet) of each other on Wednesday, a US defense official told Reuters news agency. The official added that such incidents are relatively uncommon.

China's Defense Ministry told the Communist Party's English-language newspaper "Global Times" that the pilot responded into the incident with "legal and professional measures."

"We hope the US side will focus on the relationship between the two countries and two militaries in their entirety, adopt concrete measures and eliminate the root causes of accidental incidents between the two countries on sea and in the air," said a defense official, according to the newspaper.

The South China Sea has been a thorn in relations between Washington and Beijing. China claims nearly all of the strategic sea, while the US stresses the need for freedom of navigation.

'Massive military complex'

Under former US President Barack Obama's administration, Washington criticized Beijing's construction of military outposts on artificial islands.

In December, President Donald Trump took to his preferred social media platform to lambast Beijing for its military activities in the South China Sea.

"Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don't think so," he said in a two-tweet tirade.

However, following a phone call with President Xi Jinping, the White House on Friday said Trump vowed to respect the "one China" policy, which sees the mainland and Taiwan as a single entity.

In 2001, a Chinese jet fighter collided with an American surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea, leaving the Chinese pilot dead and prompting a diplomatic dispute.

Beijing detained 24 US crew members on the aircraft for 10 days. In the wake of the incident, both countries signed an agreement to prevent similar occurrences.

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ls/sms (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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