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 Chinese 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.”
The ministry described the alleged incursion as “a naked act of provocation,” adding that it had lodged a stern protest and demanded that the U.S. cease such actions.
The statement did not give details on the time and place of the drills, but the information matches exercises that 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.
High-altitude U.S. U-2 reconnaissance planes were flown over China, the former Soviet Union and other countries in the communist bloc during the Cold War. 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 Chinese-held islands.
Another Chinese 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 as its territory and threatens to use military force to bring the self-governing, democratic island under its control. Washington and Taipei have increased military and governmental contacts in recent years, including this month’s visit to Taiwan by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the island in more than 40 years. The visit prompted a protest from Beijing.
The eastern command of China’s 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 defense ministry quoted command spokesperson Senior Col. Zhang Chunhui as saying.