A Chinese fighter jet performed an “unsafe” intercept of a US plane while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea, according to a defence official.

The Chinese J-10 fighter jet was armed and came as close as 300 feet in front of the US EP-3 reconnaissance plane in the East China Sea on Sunday, the official told CNN on Monday.

The official added that a second armed J-10 Chinese fighter jet was involved in the intercept but only one of the aircraft acted in a “unsafe” way.

US Navy Captain Jeff Davis told the media at the Pentagon that the “unsafe” behaviour involved one of the Chinese fighters flying underneath the US aircraft “at a high rate of speed”, and then slowing and pulling up in front of the American plane, prompting the EP-3’s traffic collision avoidance system to go-off and forcing the American pilot to “to take evasive action to prevent the possibility of collision”.

The intercept took place approximately 80 nautical miles east of the Chinese mainland in international airspace, CNN reported.

China maintains an “Air Defence Identification Zone” over much of the East China Sea, something the US does not recognize.

Another US official confirmed to CNN that the “unsafe” intercept occurred and said “encounters like this, ones that show a lack of control by the Chinese pilot, do nothing but increase the risk of miscalculation”.

Sunday’s incident follows a series of Chinese intercepts of US aircraft over the last few months.

In May, two Chinese J-10s similarly intercepted a US surveillance aircraft over the South China Sea in what the US Navy described as an “unsafe” maneuver.

Earlier that month, a Chinese Su-30 jet flew “inverted” over a US Air Force WC-135.