A US Navy reconnaissance jet flew over the Taiwan Strait on Monday, in a maneuver intended to assert the right to operate in international airspace despite strong objections from the Chinese military.
In a statement Monday, the US 7th Fleet said the flight of the P-8A Poseidon over the waterway that separates China and the self-ruled island of Taiwan was conducted in accordance with international law, demonstrating “the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
But a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Army Senior Col. Shi Yi, accused Washington of hyping the flight and inflaming tensions.
The US flight “has deliberately disrupted the regional situation and jeopardized the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” Shi said in a report on the PLA’s English language website.
That allegation was amplified in Chinese state media, with a story in the nationalist state-run tabloid Global Times claiming the flight of the US Navy antisubmarine warfare and surveillance jet was “just another provocation aimed at stirring up troubles.”
The US 7th Fleet statement said the US would continue to “fly, sail, and operate anywhere international law allows including within the Taiwan Strait.”
The Chinese Communist Party claims Taiwan, a democratically ruled island of 24 million people, as part of its sovereign territory despite never having controlled it.
Beijing sends military aircraft and ships into the Taiwan Strait on a daily basis as it keeps up military pressure on the island.
On Tuesday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said it spotted 14 PLA aircraft and three naval vessels around the island, including four aircraft that crossed the median line of the strait, which had for decades served as a rarely breached informal demarcation line between the two sides but is now routinely ignored by Beijing.
Tuesday’s PLA deployments were up from four aircraft and three ships spotted by Taiwan on Monday, with none of those crossing the median line.
The US P-8A flight on Monday was the second in less than a week to draw significant attention from the PLA.
On Friday, a US Poseidon with a CNN crew aboard was intercepted by a PLA fighter jet over the South China Sea near the Paracel Islands, a chain of contested coral atolls where Beijing has built military installations despite competing claims from Vietnam and Taiwan.
The intercept, filmed by the CNN crew, came after a PLA airfield in the Paracels, which China calls the Xisha Islands, warned the US plane to stay away from what it claimed was Chinese airspace around the islands.
A Global Times report on Sunday said the PLA handled the encounter with the US aircraft in a professional manner. But the presence of the “US spy plane that conducted a close-in reconnaissance on China at China’s doorstep” shows that Washington, not Beijing, is the “aggressor” in the region, the report said.
“The US military frequently sends aircraft and vessels to the South China Sea, the East China Sea and the Taiwan Straits for close-in reconnaissance operations and provocative transits, although China is thousands of kilometers away from the US,” it said.
US general: PLA ‘preparing for something’
In a related development Monday, the general in charge of the US Army in the Pacific said the PLA is on a “historical trajectory” as it continues building up its forces.
“The military arm that they have created, it’s extraordinary,” Gen. Charles Flynn said at an American Enterprise Institute event.
“They are rehearsing, they are practicing, they are experimenting, and they are preparing those forces for something,” Flynn said. “But you don’t build up that kind of arsenal to just defend and protect. You are probably building that for other purposes.”
At the same event, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said that while she does not believe a PLA amphibious invasion of Taiwan is imminent, “we have to obviously prepare … to fight and win that war.”
“I think the best way we avoid fighting that war is by showing the (People’s Republic of China) and countries in the region that we can actually win that war,” she said.