China has rejected U.S. claims that its warplanes maneuvered unsafely when they intercepted an American Navy reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told journalists Thursday that the Chinese jets monitored the U.S. plane from an acceptable distance and operated in a safe and professional manner.

Hong said China urged the U.S. to cease such surveillance missions, which he said endangered Chinese security in the air and sea.

The Pentagon said two Chinese J-11 fighters flew within about 15 meters (50 feet) of the EP-3 Aries on Tuesday, forcing the U.S. pilot to descend sharply to avoid a collision. It said the U.S. plane was conducting routine operations in international airspace.

It characterized the incident as an unsafe intercept and said it is being reviewed.