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A Chinese fighter pilot allegedly flew directly in front of a US military aircraft operating over the South China Sea in what the US military on Tuesday called an “unnecessarily aggressive manoeuvre”.

The US’s Indo-Pacific Command disclosed the incident as the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, was heading to the region for stops in Japan, Singapore and India this week.

The encounter, which took place on Friday and was the latest in a string of dangerous and increasingly frequent similar incidents, the US side said, comes as China’s military has repeatedly rebuffed American efforts to broker a meeting between Austin and his Chinese counterpart, including one for this week.

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