East China Sea intercept
Chinese J-10 fighter jet intercepts US Air Force's RC-135 reconnaissance aircraftJoe Chan/Reuters file photo

Beijing has reportedly made an "unsafe" intercept of a US spy plane over the East China Sea raising fresh tensions. The Chinese J-10 fighter plane flew at a "high rate of speed" and at the same altitude as that of the US Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.

Pentagon and Obama administration officials – told media outlets on condition of anonymity – have confirmed the incident, which occurred in international airspace on 7 June. The US flight was on a routine patrol mission during the encounter.

"One of the intercepting Chinese jets had an unsafe excessive rate of closure on the RC-135 aircraft. Initial assessment is that this seems to be a case of improper airmanship, as no other provocative or unsafe maneuvers occurred," Commander Dave Benham, spokesperson for the US Pacific Command, told the Japan Times in a statement.

Although the Chinese fighter jet did not travel closer than 100ft of the US plane, its cruising speed has deemed it an "unsafe" encounter. It is still unclear whether the RC-135 took any evasive action during the incident.

The US has not yet divulged whether it would protest against the tense encounter via diplomatic channels.

News about the close intercept has come just as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his top-level talks in Beijing. During his visit, he demanded that "tradition historic freedom of navigation and overflight to be respected".

In a similar encounter in May 2016, two Chinese fighter jets had a close call with a US plane over the South China Sea. At the time of the incident, the US said the encounter was a violation of their bilateral agreement and protested against the breach.