Amid a low point in US and China relations, there's now a new point of contention: The latter's Ministry of National Defense is accusing a US Air Force U-2 reconnaissance plane of infiltrating a no-fly zone during live-fire military drills. "This was a naked act of provocation," ministry spokesperson Wu Qian said Tuesday in a statement on the alleged incursion during the Northern Theater Command's exercises, the AP reports. A source tells the South China Morning Post that the U-2 plane flew over the Bohai Gulf, where China's Shandong aircraft carrier was participating in the drills. "The trespass severely affected China's normal exercises and training activities, and violated the rules of behavior for air and maritime safety between China and the United States," Wu said, per CNN, adding that the spy plane's presence "could easily have resulted in misjudgments and even accidents."
A US Pacific Air Forces statement is pushing back, noting that the U-2 plane had been well within its rights to fly where it was flying, according to international rules. "Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing," the statement notes. A military analyst says it wouldn't even have been necessary for the U-2 plane—an aircraft that has seen significant surveillance upgrades over the past few decades—to get that close to monitor China's military exercises. A US affairs expert has a different take, noting it may have simply been the US flexing its muscles. "I think this is more a political gesture, saying the US can do whatever they like without being constrained by Chinese military power," he tells the SCMP, which notes at least two other US spy planes were reported flying over the South China Sea this week. (Read more China stories.)