National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby speaks at the White House on May 31, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
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The Biden administration is condemning a series of aggressive sea and air intercepts by China’s military, characterizing them as unjustified and unprofessional.
A Chinese fighter jet aggressively intercepted a U.S. aircraft over the South China Sea last week. That incident was shortly followed by a similar encounter between U.S. and Chinese warships in the Taiwan Strait.
In both incidents, the Chinese vehicle cut close across the nose of the U.S. vehicle in an apparent attempt to intimidate it into altering course.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby described the incidents as “unacceptable” and said they were part of a broader pattern of increasing aggression by China’s communist regime.
“These are part and parcel of an increasing level of aggressiveness by the [Chinese] military, particularly in the areas of the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea,” Kirby said.
“Sadly this is just part of a growing aggressiveness by [China] that we’re dealing with, and we’re prepared to address it.”
Chinese Military ‘Unprofessional’
Kirby noted that there was nothing inherently wrong with military intercepts in and of themselves, saying militaries around the world engage in them “all the time” in proper contexts.
“The difference is professional forces do it when needed and in accordance with international law and the rules of the road,” he said, noting that there was “no justification” for the regime’s hostility.
“I sure would like to hear Beijing justify what they’re doing.
“We urge them to make better decisions about how they operate in international airspace and sea space. Whether they acknowledge those rules of the road or not, they are the rules of the road.”
The incidents are part of a growing line of high-profile encounters in which the Chinese military has sought to provoke U.S. and allied military forces in the Indo-Pacific.
Speaking to a press gaggle on June 4, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called on the regime to pull back from such reckless acts before an accident or communication resulted in a crisis.
“I call upon [China’s] leadership to really do the right thing, to reign in that kind of conduct, because I think accidents can happen that could cause things to spiral out of control,” Austin said.
Describing the incidents as “pretty close,” Kirby, who served in the U.S. Navy for 29 years, said such conduct indicated the lack of professionalism in the Chinese military.
“They forced our aircraft, our C-135, to basically go through their jet wash … that shows you how close that Chinese fighter was to our jet,” he said.
“There’s no call for that. It’s unsafe. It’s unprofessional.”
US Defends International Law
Kirby reiterated that the United States was operating in accordance with international law and was in international territory during both incidents. To that end, he said Chinese communist forces acted without reason.
“We’re flying, we’re sailing, we’re operating in international airspace and international waters,” he said.
“[In] both of those incidents, [we] were in complete compliance with international law. There was absolutely no need for [China] to act as aggressively as they did.”
Despite the aggression, the United States would continue to uphold international law and promote the freedom of navigation as an example to all nations, including China, according to Kirby.
“We’re going to keep flying. We’re going to keep sailing. We’re going to keep operating where international law allows us to,” he said.
“It’s an important concept, freedom of navigation, whether it’s in the air or on the sea. It’s an important concept that the United States is going to continue to stand up for.”
Position on Taiwan
The Chinese regime has, in recent years, dialed up its military harassment and threats toward Taiwan, the self-ruled island that it has vowed to seize by force if necessary.
Washington officially maintains the policy of “strategic ambiguity” on the question of whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of a Chinese attack. But U.S. President Joe Biden has repeatedly said the United States would step in in the event of an invasion, only for his officials to walk back on such remarks.
Most recently, Biden said at a press conference during the G-7 Summit in Japan on May 21 that “there is clear understanding among most of our allies that, in fact, if China were to act unilaterally, there would be a response.”
When asked for a further explanation of Biden’s remark, Kirby declined, saying he didn’t want to add to what the president had already said in Japan.
“He has said that before and that we don’t want to see the status quo changed unilaterally,” Kirby said in response to a question by The Epoch Times on June 5.
“We certainly don’t want to see it changed by force. And the only thing that the president said, and he said it a gazillion times, is that there’s no reason for it to.”
He emphasized that Washington’s policy hasn’t changed.
“We don’t support independence for Taiwan,” Kirby said. “We obviously do support their self-defense capabilities, and we’ll continue to do that, but there’s no reason for this tension in the Taiwan Strait to devolve into any kind of conflict.”