Chinese Ministry of National Defence made a strongly-worded statement accusing the U.S. of flying its U-2 spy plane in the “no-fly zone” over live ammunition exercises. The U.S. military states it operated within international law.

The incident occurred in an undisclosed location in China’s northern military region on 25 August, 2020. According to Chinese MOD spokesman Wu Qian, the U.S. “seriously disrupted China’s normal exercises and training activities, violated China-U.S. maritime and air safety code of conduct and related international practices”. Qian also called it a “provocation”, which could “easily lead to misunderstandings”.

Since then, the U.S. military has issued a statement confirming the flight, but refuting allegations of its unlawfulness. 

“A U-2 sortie was conducted in the Indo-Pacific area of operations and within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights. Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing,” the statement read.

Lockheed U-2 spy plane involved in an incident, a heavily upgraded variant of the iconic cold-war aircraft, likely featured sophisticated surveillance and electronic warfare equipment capable of gathering intelligence on the unfolding of Chinese war games. A move was bound to prompt a harsh Chinese response, even though it did not have to involve direct overflight of the exercise or putting high-flying aircraft anywhere near the live-fire zone.