China is protesting the alleged incursion of a U.S. Air Force U-2 spy plane into a no-fly zone imposed during live-fire military exercises in the country’s north.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Ministry of National Defense said the action had “seriously interfered in normal exercise activities” and “severely incurred the risk of misjudgment and even of bringing about an unintended air-sea incident.”
“This was a naked act of provocation,” the ministry said, quoting spokesperson Wu Qian. China has lodged a stern protest and demanded the U.S. cease such actions, Wu said.
The statement did not give details on the time and place of the drills, but the information matches exercises the Maritime Safety Administration said started Monday and would run through Sept. 30 over the Bohai Gulf east of Beijing.
Relations between the U.S. and China have sunk to their lowest in decades amid disputes over myriad issues including trade, technology, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance planes were flown over China, the former Soviet Union and other countries in the Communist bloc during the Cold War and upgraded versions continue to support U.S. missions.
China is also holding naval drills in the South China Sea, which it claims virtually in its entirety but over which five other governments also exercise claims. China objects to all U.S. military activity in and over the strategic waterway, especially “freedom of navigation operations” during which U.S. Navy ships sail near to Chinese-held islands.
Another naval exercise is planned from Thursday to Sunday in the East China Sea despite warnings issued over Typhoon Bavi, which is affecting the Korean Peninsula.
The defense ministry earlier this month said combat exercises were held in the Taiwan Strait and surrounding waters that were a “necessary move responding to the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and were meant to safeguard national sovereignty.”
China claims Taiwan is its territory and threatens to use military force to bring under its control the island that is a self-governing democracy and close U.S. ally. Washington and Taipei have increased military and governmental contacts in recent years and this month, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar became the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan, prompting a Chinese protest.
The eastern command of the People’s Liberation Army will “stay on high alert and take all necessary measures to fight against provocations and protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the ministry quoted command spokesperson, Senior Col. Zhang Chunhui, as saying.