>> An accidental encounter or a threat. The Pentagon says two Chinese fighter jets unsafely intercepted a US spy plane over the South China Sea earlier this week. The encounter happened in international airspace, but China defended itself on Thursday, saying the plane flew too close to its southern Hainan island, and warned the US to lay off the recon flights.
Reuter's Greg Toraud says although the plane wasn't in Chinese territory, for Beijing it may have crossed a line.>> The US insists upon its rights to operate in international airspace. China's position is more ambiguous in terms of international airspace. It's made clear to the US and other countries that it considers close surveillance of its coast, a provocation.
Some analysts have told us that the Chinese can be expected to be remain very sensitive about certain US activities, particularly as they expand the military facilities and operations on the southern Chinese coast.>> But what exactly was the American plane doing so close to China?>> The plane is an EP3 which is one of the older US air frames used for this kind of work.
It's relatively slow moving, very long range. But although it's old, it will have the very latest equipment on board. Those flights when they travel quite close to the Chinese coast, retired pilots have told me they essentially light up the Chinese coast, the military facilities, radars are turned on, there's a lot of communication.
So that can be very potentially quite fruitful for the U.S.>> U.S Pacific command say they're investigating the intercept. Analysts say if this is Beijing's way of getting Washington's attention, it's playing a dangerous game. 15 years ago a U.S spy plane did collide with a Chinese fighter. The American pilots landed and were held in China for a few weeks, but the Chinese pilot crashed into the South China Sea and died.