By Mahmut Atanur
BEIJING (AA) – Beijing has responded to reports of Chinese jets intercepting a United States military aircraft over the disputed South China Sea by saying the incident likely related to reconnaissance against China.
"According to the reported situation, this is probably concerning the close-in reconnaissance by U.S. military aircraft against China,” the state-run China Daily reported the Ministry of National Defense as saying Thursday.
“We will embark on understanding and evaluating the relevant situation," it added.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon said two Chinese fighter jets intercepted Tuesday a U.S. military reconnaissance plane conducting a "routine patrol" in international airspace.
"Initial reports characterized the incident as unsafe," according to the statement.
The incident comes a week after an American guided missile destroyer sailed near a reef in the South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands chain, in the latest of U.S. "freedom of navigation" operations -- moves Beijing had called “provocative”.
China considers almost all of the maritime area its territory, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan also have overlapping claims.
China's reclamation work in the region, which includes the building of airfields on some disputed islands, has prompted the U.S. and its allies to express alarm over the maritime expansion, which they suspect is aimed at extending its military reach.
China has accused Washington of "militarizing" the region.
The sea, thought to have large oil and gas deposits, is a critical asset for global shipping and fishing that sees more than $5 trillion in maritime trade every year.