China has lashed out over recent US surveillance flights buzzing the Chinese coast, saying the move "severely harmed strategic mutual trust" and was "a major obstacle" hindering the development of ties between the two armies.
Two Chinese Sukhoi-27 fighters attempted to intercept a US U-2 reconnaissance plane over the Taiwan Straits on June 29, according to reports.
The Ministry of National Defense told the Global Times that "we demand that the US respects China's sovereignty and security interests, and take concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations."
The remarks followed a pledge by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who vowed to continue similar activities near China.
"We won't be deterred from flying in international airspace," Mullen was quoted by Reuters as saying Monday in Washington.
"The Chinese would see us move out of there. ... We're not going to do that, from my perspective. These reconnaissance flights are important," the admiral said.
Mullen's remarks have affected Sino-US military ties after a relatively rosy period, which saw high-ranking officers from both countries exchange visits.
His statement came two weeks after Chen Bingde, Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, hosted Mullen in Beijing.
At a joint press conference with Mullen on July 11, Chen pointed out that recent missions by unmanned US surveillance spy planes had come as close as 16 nautical miles off the Chinese coast.
Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China can legitimately interrupt US surveillance moves.
"It is impossible for China to deploy the electronic countermeasures needed to set up a so-called protective electronic screen in the air to deter reconnaissance. Sending flights to intercept spying activities is essential to show China's resolution to defend its sovereignty," Song said.
"The US has insisted that their spying on China brings no harm by using the excuse that it is safeguarding its own security," Song said.
"US spying activities, arms sales to Taiwan and uneven military communications with China have been the top three major barriers for military ties between the two countries," he added.
China severed military exchanges with the US in 2010, after Congress greenlit an arms sales package to Taiwan worth up to $6.4 billion, including Black Hawk helicopters, Patriot "Advanced Capability 3" anti-missile missiles, and command-and-control technology.
When visiting Washington in May, Chen Bingde warned that new US weapons sales to Taiwan would further damage ties.
However, Mullen countered by saying that the US was obligated, under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, to help the island defend itself.
In an opinion published in The New York Times on Tuesday, Mullen said his visit had constituted "a step toward trust with China," but noted ties are still faced with many challenges and clouded by misunderstanding and suspicion.
A military expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Global Times that the US has intensified its reconnaissance activities on China to trace the country's submarines.
"It is their strategy to act promptly to restrain Chinese submarines in any conflict in the Taiwan Straits," the expert said.
A Chinese jet fighter collided with a US reconnaissance EP-3E aircraft it had been shadowing off Hainan island in 2001. The Chinese pilot Wang Wei went missing.