US military aircraft intercepted by Chinese jets over South China Sea

A US Navy EP-3 surveillance airplane Credit: Reuters

A US military aircraft were intercepted by Chinese fighter jets over the South China Sea, the Pentagon has said.

The incident took place in international airspace on Tuesday in a further escalation of tensions in the contested area.

The Pentagon said the reconnaissance plane was carrying out a "routine US patrol" when two Chinese fighter jets carried out an "unsafe" intercept.

It comes a week after China scrambled fighter jets as a US Navy ship sailed close to a disputed reef in the South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Chinese dredging vessels are purportedly seen in the waters around Fiery Cross Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea Credit: Reuters

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims.

Washington has accused Beijing of militarizing the South China Sea after creating artificial islands while Beijing, in turn, has criticized increased US naval patrols and exercises in Asia.