U.S., China agree on rules for air-to-air military encounters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday announced agreements with China on a military hotline and rules of behavior to govern air-to-air encounters, just days after the Pentagon criticized China over an unsafe intercept of a U.S. spy plane.

The agreements were unveiled following talks in Washington between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama and seek to lessen the chance of an accidental flare-up between the two militaries, despite tensions in the South China Sea.

“We agreed to new channels of communication to reduce the risks of miscalculations between our militaries,” Obama told a White House news conference with Xi standing beside him.

The new agreement on rules of behavior for air-to-air encounters was broad in scope, addressing everything from the correct radio frequencies to use during distress calls to the wrong physical behaviors to use during crises.

"Military aircrew should refrain from the use of uncivil language or unfriendly physical gestures," read one provision of the agreement. (

Another agreement created formal rules to govern use of a military crisis hotline, a move that aims to speed top-level communication. (

The Pentagon says two Chinese JH-7 fighter jets intercepted an American RC-135 reconnaissance plane, with one passing within just 500 feet of the U.S. aircraft. The intercept took place on Sept. 15, about 80 miles (130 km) east of the Shandong peninsula in the Yellow Sea.

The Pentagon reported a far more dangerous intercept last year, when, in August 2014, a Chinese warplane flew as close as 20 to 30 feet (7 to 10 meters) to a U.S. Navy patrol jet and conducted a barrel roll over the plane.

One U.S. defense official said, the United States will expect “full compliance” with the agreement.

The intercepts are examples of moves seen as an assertion of the expanding reach of China’s military. This month, five Chinese Navy ships sailed in the Bering Sea off Alaska.

Closer to home, China’s territorial claims have stoked tensions. Beijing claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

The agreement sidesteps such territorial disputes by being “geographically neutral,” the U.S. defense official said.

But Obama said he had a “candid” discussion with Xi.

“I indicated that the United States will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that international law allows,” Obama said as Xi stood beside him.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Bernard Orr