Chinese jets come within several hundred feet of US plane over South China Sea

  • As Jared Kushner says he will cooperate with Russia inquiry after reports 

Two Chinese J-10 fighter jets came within several hundred feet of a U.S. Navy P-3 Orion over the South China Sea on Thursday local time, U.S. officials said.

The fighters flew 200 yards in front of the P-3 maritime surveillance aircraft with an altitude separation of 100 feet, U.S. officials said.

A defense official described the Chinese intercept as “unprofessional.”

According to a U.S. official, the Chinese jets were weaving ahead of the American plane, an action that concerned the U.S. pilot.

The activity occurred 150 miles southeast of Hainan Island in the northern part of the South China Sea.

This encounter appears to have occurred the same day that the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Dewey sailed within 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the South China Sea, conducting a Freedom of Navigation Operation by the artificial island claimed by China.

The U.S. military conducts Freedom of Navigation Operations worldwide to challenge what the U.S. sees as excessive maritime claims and to ensure free and open waterways under international law.

The Dewey’s trip was the first such operation near a South China Sea island claimed by China since October and the first under the Trump administration.

Mischief Reef is one of the manmade islands that China has built up in the Spratly Islands chain and turned into airstrips and facilities that could be used by China’s military.

Last week, the Chinese conducted a barrel roll over a U.S. Air Force WC-135 radiation “sniffer” aircraft, known as Constant Phoenix, flying in international airspace in the Yellow Sea west of the Korean peninsula.

That incident was also characterized as “unprofessional,” a U.S. official said.

In the meantime, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said he would cooperate with any investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia following reports that he is under FBI scrutiny.

Multiple news outlets reported on Thursday that investigators were focused on a series of meetings that Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, held with Russian officials last year as part of the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Mr Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings,” attorney Jamie Gorelick said in a statement on Thursday. “He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”

The Washington Post first reported last week that investigators had identified a current White House official as a significant person of interest, a major development following the news that former FBI director Robert Mueller would be acting as a special counsel to investigate Trump’s connections to Russia.

Press secretary Sean Spicer did not deny the news reports at the time, and on Thursday, the Washington Post and NBC News reported that Kushner was a focus of the FBI’s case, citing anonymous sources familiar with the investigation. The Guardian could not independently confirm the reports.

The naming of Kushner in connection with the FBI’s investigation is significant, though the scope of the inquiry into the husband of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, is unclear. Kushner has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not the central focus of the investigation, the Post said.

The White House did not comment further on Thursday.

It emerged last year that executives of Vnesheconombank (VEB), a Russian bank, had talks with Kushner. The White House aide also held a meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned in February after it emerged that he had misled vice-president Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.

Kushner is currently “being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians”, the Post reported.

The FBI’s investigation is also reportedly continuing to focus on Flynn and Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has had extensive business dealings for Russian proxies in Ukraine. Manafort has denied wrongdoing. Flynn is facing subpoenas from the US House and Senate and has refused requests for documents by invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination.

Kushner is in a different category than Manafort and Flynn in the investigation, according to NBC News’ report.

Last month, the New York Times reported that Kushner omitted meeting with Russians on security clearance forms.

Earlier this month, Kushner’s family was forced to apologize for mentioning his name while urging Chinese investors to pour money into a US real estate project, raising concerns about a possible conflict of interest.

Trump recently fired FBI director James Comey, later admitting he was he thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to sack him. Trump had also reportedly urged Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.

Abc with additional report from Guardian