U.S. Officials justify surveillance flights over China

A US Navy E-2C of VAW-117 approaches to land on the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), clearly showing the new eight-bladed propellers installed on all of the Navy's E-2Cs. Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Beijing contacted the U.S. last month, asking them to reduce or stop their close surveillance flights in East Asia. The U.S. justified the patrol aircraft because of the lack of transparency in China’s military buildup.

According to Reuters, when Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel answered questions about the Chinese call to cut back the flights, he mentioned that China has had a big military buildup over the past couple years. The senior U.S. diplomat of East Asia said there was concern over the secrecy of it.
“We have the right to conduct legitimate missions outside of China’s territorial space and there is a persuasive rational for doing so,” he said.

China’s request happen to follow an incident where a Chinese jet flew extremely close to a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon anti-submarine and reconnaissance plane. The incident occurred in international waters near the Chinese island of Hainan.

Russel told Reuters, “Frankly, the lack of transparency in China’s military modernization is the source of some concern to its neighbors. And we believe that all of the region, including China, would benefit from increased transparency.”

Countries in the region of the South China Sea are concerned over China’s aggressive moves to work towards territorial claims which includes accelerated land reclamation work on reefs and shoals. This activity has proved “intimidating and worrisome” to its neighbors, said Russel.

Because of the lack of transparency, there are questions on why China is using the reclaimed land. Is it trying extend its military reach? Is it trying create the question of who has sovereignty of the various land features?

“What I think the effect of what they are doing is to destabilize the situation and make it harder, not easier, for the claimants to resolve their claims peacefully.”

Beijing argues that “high-frequency, close surveillance” by U.S. patrols has seriously harmed its security interests. Chinese officials said the U.S. needs to stop if they want to salvage already tense relations between the two countries.

Last month’s incident took place only 137 moles from Hainan. The city is home to several military bases. One houses a sensitive submarine fleet. Among the fleet using the base are large vessels that can carry nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. These weapons are expected to be a big part of China’s nuclear deterrence strategy, according to Reuters.

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