In recent encounters between U.S. and Chinese military aircraft, there have been reports of pilots on both sides using obscene gestures towards one another, and now, a new safety memorandum has required pilots on both sides to stop flipping each other off.
An amendment to the memorandum states, “Military aircrew should refrain from the use of uncivil language or unfriendly physical gestures.” And although the advise appears to be a little over the top, it could have serious repercussions since people on both sides admit that such overly aggressive and obscene gestures can escalate into a violent situation that could even trigger a conflict between the two countries.
China – U.S.: A history of obscenities
Gung-ho antics in the skies have led to major tensions between Washington and Beijing in the past. In 2001, a Chinese fighter and American signal aircraft flew so close to each other that they could not avoid a collision, which resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot, while the 24-man American crew was captured by Chinese authorities until the U.S. apologized for the incident. The bizarre incident occurred after the Chinese pilot flew so close to the American plane that the crew members could even read his email address written on a sheet of paper.
However, it appears that both sides have forgotten the tragedy, and aircraft of both countries are again flying close to one another on a frequent basis as both states look to show their might in the disputed South China Sea and the East China Sea. And although China did declare an exclusive air zone in the East China Zone beyond its territorial waters in 2013, both Japan and the U.S. have disregarded China’s claim and, to this day, continue sending aircraft into the territory.
As if that was not enough, last year, a Chinese fighter jet came 30 feet close to a U.S. spy plane flying near its territory, while in August of this year, two Chinese fighters intercepted a spy plane that was flying over the ocean space between China and Korea. The U.S. called the interception unsafe and criticized Beijing for showing a complete inability to keep a tight leash on its pilots, to which Beijing defended the actions of its pilot by stating that it is natural for any fighter pilot to defend the territorial integrity of his or her country.
Following a history like this, upon his arrival in America a few weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping worked with President Obama and put together this new amendment which aims at discouraging pilots on both sides from engaging in aggressive conduct when they encounter one another. And in the event of a pilot not following the new protocol, he or she will be put to task.
Keeping a tight leash on belligerents
The new agreement comes 12 months after a similar agreement was made among several countries. It was named the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea. More than 20 maritime leaders signed the agreement at the 14th Western Pacific Naval Symposium where they exchanged ideas and agreed upon mechanisms aimed at improving maritime conduct. An overwhelming majority voted on the endorsement of the code, and although the document is not binding, it states that participating nations must have a standardized protocol of safety procedures, basic communications and basic maneuvering instructions for naval ships and aircraft to follow during unplanned encounters at sea.
Indeed, in a relationship that has had its fair share of highs and lows, manners do count for something, and the aforementioned accord aimed at taking obscene gestures out of the equation is a very important measure taken by both sides to keep a leash on pilots and also to keep a check on their emotions when encountering each other’s forces in the vicinity.
Tensions have stepped up a notch since China declared an air defense identification zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea. Moreover, China’s recent adventures in the South China Sea have escalated matters further, with the U.S. equally not willing to back down from its stance and constantly speaking about its commitment to freedom of navigation, something it feels that China is violating.