China protests U.S. spy flights near its coast

BEIJING Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:01pm EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China warned that recent U.S. surveillance flights near its coast have severely harmed mutual trust and were a major obstacle to better military ties between the two countries, state media reported Wednesday.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, vowed Monday to press ahead with surveillance flights near China despite opposition from Beijing, after an intercept by Chinese fighter jets of a U.S. spy plane on June 29.

"We demand that the U.S. respect China's sovereignty and security interests and take concrete measures to boost a healthy and stable development of military relations," the Global Times newspaper quoted the Ministry of National Defense as saying.

Xinhua news agency later quoted ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng as saying the reconnaissance missions "have severely undermined mutual trust and remained a major obstacle to the development of military ties.

There have been conflicting accounts of where the June 29 incident happened.

Taiwan's defense ministry said Monday that two Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed a line in the center of the Taiwan Strait that is considered an unofficial boundary between the airspace of both sides.

The fighter jets were attempting to intercept a U.S. U-2 reconnaissance plane, according to Asian media reports.

But the Pentagon said Wednesday the June 29 Chinese intercept did not take place in the center of the Taiwan Strait. One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it happened in international airspace over the East China Sea, north of Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait.

Regardless, relations between the U.S. and Chinese militaries have been rocky. China is unhappy with U.S. reconnaissance patrols near its coast and is suspicious of U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

China's rapid military buildup, including its growing aircraft carrier program, and its territorial disputes in the South China Sea have sparked concerns in the region.

The United States wants greater military transparency from Beijing over the military modernization and has warned about China's growing missile and cyber capabilities.

Self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as part of its sovereign territory, has been another major irritant in military relations. China has been furious about a 2010 package of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan worth up to $6.4 billion.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Ron Popeski and John O'Callaghan)

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