The United States conducted 36 reconnaissance flights over the South China Sea in June, half the number from May, a Beijing-based think tank said, saying the US had temporarily shifted focus to the East China Sea.
In a monthly summary, the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) said there was a “significant” increase in reconnaissance flights the US sent to the East China Sea last month, compared with its previous “sporadic” sorties.
The 22 large-scale spy planes sent to the East China Sea included an E-3B early warning aircraft, RC-135U electronic reconnaissance aircraft, MQ-4C unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and RQ-4 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, it said.
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The think tank previously reported that a US RC-135U aircraft flew directly into the East China Sea area of China’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on June 3. The plane took off from Kadena base in Okinawa, Japan, and flew into the East China Sea before heading west towards China.
China is locked in a bitter maritime dispute with Japan over the East China Sea and is involved in confrontations with its Southeast Asian neighbours over the South China Sea.
The US military also carried out several operations around Taiwan and in the process had set two new benchmarks, the think tank said.
A US Navy P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft took off from Okinawa and crossed the Taiwan Strait from north to south, marking the first such operation since the P-8A was deployed in the West Pacific in 2013, it said.
The report also mentioned the first landing of the C-17A aircraft which ferried three US senators to Taiwan on June 6 instead of a civilian plane that normally performs such tasks, an operation the report said perpetuated tension in the strait.
China’s defence ministry condemned the US landing as a “very vicious political provocation” and one day later, the Chinese military conducted amphibious landing exercises off China’s southeastern coast.
Last month, a day after a US aircraft carrier group held drills in the disputed South China Sea, China flew a record 28 fighter jets towards Taiwan, the largest such display of force since Beijing began sending planes on a near-daily basis last year.
The sharp decline in US military activity in the South China Sea was also attributed to a large-scale military exercise conducted by Russia off the coast of Hawaii in mid-June, drawing a portion of the US surveillance forces, the think tank said.
Russian officials called it the largest exercise in the Pacific Ocean since the end of the Cold War, and it came ahead of the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden. US military officials said an “irregular air patrol” by three F-22 fighter jets from Honolulu was scrambled in response.
This article US spy planes make fewer flights over South China Sea as focus shifts: report first appeared on South China Morning Post