China has announced another naval exercise as observers predicted that its increasing military capabilities would see an increase in US surveillance flights.
The maritime safety authorities in Zhejiang province announced a no-entry zone for civilian vessels in the East China Sea from Tuesday until Friday afternoon because of “military activities”.
The scale of China’s exercises along its coast in recent weeks has been unprecedented and has been matched by an increase in the number of US ships and aircraft keeping watch over the PLA’s activities.
Meanwhile, a Beijing-based think tank said satellite images showed a number of flights by US spy planes, including one that approached the coast of Guangdong province and another near the no-entry zone.
A US army Artemis CL-604 left Kadena air base in Okinawa on Monday and was later spotted near Guangdong province, according to a Twitter post by the South China Sea Strategic Probing Initiative.
It also said the US air force had transferred two reconnaissance planes, an RC-135W and an RC-135S, from the Yokota air base in Tokyo to Okinawa on the same day.
One Tuesday another army CL-604 plane was spotted near the area cleared for the East China Sea exercise and second that left Kadena air base was seen over the South China Sea.
The latest activities came as tensions between the world’s two largest economies continue to escalate on many fronts, from the economic to the strategic, with the South China Sea and Taiwan among the most likely flashpoints.
Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military commentator, said the US was likely to carry out more reconnaissance operations in China’s coastal regions in future given its growing concern about China’s expanding military capability – in particular the possibility of an attack on Taiwan.
The US, he said, is looking to collect intelligence to “better study China’s strategic intentions in case any armed confrontations occur”.
“Such provocations could become increasingly normal,” Song said. “But from another perspective, the PLA could take it as a great opportunity to train its military in such face-offs with the world’s biggest military power.”
China’s military has stepped up its activities in recent weeks along its southern and eastern coastlines.
The latest exercise in the East China Sea follows the start of another drill in the Bohai Sea, off the northeastern port of Qinhuangdao, on Monday and a four-day live-fire exercise in the Yellow Sea near Lianyungang.
Meanwhile, the US has reportedly stepped up its reconnaissance activities near Chinese coast over the past weeks, with at least four aerial reconnaissance planes being spotted in the Taiwan Strait, the Bashi Channel, the East China Sea and Yellow Sea on August 29 alone.
Beijing has warned against the risks of such operations. Last month the Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe contacted his US counterpart Mark Esper after an E-8C spy plane was spotted near the city of Guangzhou after travelling along a commercial air route, prompting accusations such activities increased the risk to civilian aircraft.
In an annual report released last week, the Pentagon warned that China’s armed forces are determined to establish a “world-class military” that can rival or exceed that of the US by 2049, when Beijing could leverage its military might to assert itself in the Western Pacific. The Chinese defence ministry rejected the claims, describing the Pentagon’s report as full of “zero-sum and cold war thinking”.
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This article US expected to step up surveillance as China continues to escalate naval exercises first appeared on South China Morning Post