US warplane flew less than 100 km from Shanghai, says China think tank

A US anti-submarine warplane came within 100 km from Shanghai in eastern China on Sunday, a Chinese think tank focused on the South China Sea has said in the backdrop of the tit-for-tat closure of consulates and escalating tension between the two countries.

A P-8A anti-submarine plane and an EP-3E reconnaissance plane entered the Taiwan Strait, flying near the coast of Zhejiang and Fujian on Sunday, a report in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) said Monday, quoting the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCS Probing Initiative or SCSPI in short), a Beijing-based think tank.

An American battleship, destroyer USS Rafael Peralta was sailing below the aircraft, the think tank said.

Quoting a tweet from the SCSPI, the report said the P-8A aircraft came within 76.5km (47.5 miles) of Shanghai – likely the closest any US plane has come to mainland China in recent years; another aircraft came within 106 km of Fujian’s southern coast.

The think tank, the SCMP report said, tweeted again Sunday night, saying the US Navy P-8A was operating near Shanghai, with the USS Rafael Peralta, a guided missile destroyer, following a similar route, asking “might be a joint operation?”.

Using satellite imagery, it tweeted on Monday early evening that a US warplane was “conducting close-in reconnaissance of Guangdong in southern China”.

The Chinese foreign ministry didn’t deny the development but did not respond to a request for a comment from Hindustan Times.

Incidentally, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is currently conducting a live-fire drill with “powerful ammunition” in the southern Guangdong province’s Leizhou peninsula, considered to be at the doorstep to the South China Sea (SCS).

The week-long drills will include anti-ship and anti-aircraft exercises by the PLA air force with the PLA’s navy and rocket forces joining in.

Writing for the SCSPI website on Monday, Wang Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS), said: “It (the US) has conducted six Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) so far this year, compared with four times in 2017, six times in 2018 and eight times in 2019. In addition, the U.S. military has conducted nearly 2,000 close-in reconnaissance operations on China from the air this year.”

According to the think tank, US air force E-8C surveillance planes have come within 185km or less of the southeast coast of Guangdong province on four separate occasions in the past week.

“At the moment the US military is sending three to five reconnaissance aircraft each day to the South China Sea,” the think tank said, adding the US military planes have come unusually close to mainland airspace several times since April.

In this context, Wang from NISCSS wrote that chances were “…growing for an accidentally triggered incident between China and the U.S. As the US intensifies its military operation in the South China Sea, China will adopt corresponding countermeasures, such as tracking and monitoring as well as warning and expulsion. The more intensifying US military operations, the more chances for accidentally triggered incidents.”

US warplanes flying close to China coincided with a tense week between the two countries in the backdrop of Washington and Beijing ordering the closure of consulates in Houston and Chengdu.

The US consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu officially shut down on Monday morning within 72 hours of Beijing ordering its closure as a tit-for-tat shutting of its Houston consulate amid worsening ties between the two largest economies of the world.

The SCSPI says on its website that it is an “international research network and not affiliated with any institution, mainly funded by social donation and non-profit investment.”

The think tank’s director, Hu Bo, however, is also the director of the Centre for Maritime Strategy Studies and Research Professor at the Institute of Ocean Research, Peking University in Beijing.

Source : Hindustan Times

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