China Reports Spike in U.S. Surveillance Flights

China Reports Spike in U.S. Surveillance Flights

By Ralph Jennings


Published 23 October 2020

A reported spike in U.S. military flights over the seas near China reflects Washington’s drive to understand and deter Chinese expansion in contested waters, analysts say. U.S. military surveillance planes flew off China’s coast 60 times in September, more than in July or August, according to Chinese state-backed research organization South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative’s website.



A reported spike in U.S. military flights over the seas near China reflects Washington’s drive to understand and deter Chinese expansion in contested waters, analysts say.


U.S. military surveillance planes flew off China’s coast 60 times in September, more than in July or August, according to Chinese state-backed research organization South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative’s website.


When contacted by VOA, U.S. Army Maj. Randy Ready, a spokesperson for the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, would say only that flight frequency near China has been consistent over time.


Most sorties flew over the South China Sea, the organization’s website says. Beijing contests sovereignty over that resource-rich, 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea with five other Asian governments, and U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in July that Washington would help other states resist Chinese expansion.


U.S. air activity would back up Pompeo’s directive, said Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies political consultancy in New York.


Pompeo had called China’s actions at sea illegal, and any increase in flights this year “can be considered commensurate with the U.S. State Department’s July policy statement that specific PRC South China Sea claims are unlawful,” King said.


American pilots probably feel an increased U.S. government concern about Chinese activity in the air and underwater, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.


Pilots can track any Chinese submarines and “familiarize” themselves with the sea, Huang said. A particular point of interest, he said, would be the Luzon Strait, between Taiwan and the Philippines’ Luzon Island, because U.S. allies aren’t as strong at that South China Sea entry point as they are in the East China Sea, he said.


“Exploitation, Corruption and Coercion”
China alarmed other countries as it expanded in the sea from about 2010 through 2017 by landfilling tiny islets for military, civilian and resource exploitation purposes. It has more firepower than the other maritime claimants, including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.


Pompeo accused China’s governing Communist Party earlier this month of “exploitation, corruption and coercion” in its treatment of other countries. Beijing points to historic usage records as support for its claim to about 90% of the South China Sea.