China last week deployed a reconnaissance plane over Pacific waters east of Taiwan that Chinese media said monitored and collected information on an exercise involving the ships of the United States, Japan, France and Canada.
An intelligence-equipped variant of the Y-9 cargo plane likely monitored and collected information about the exercise, the Chinese state-backed Global Times reported on Sunday, citing analysts.
Two US aircraft carriers, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, had been operating around the geopolitically important Ryukyu Islands in the Philippine Sea since Thursday, according to the Global Times, citing a Beijing-based think tank.
The islands separate the East China Sea from the Philippine Sea and dot the Western Pacific between Japan and Taiwan, which China claims as its territory.
The United States kicked off the exercise in the Philippine Sea on Friday, with two carrier strike groups operating together for the first time since June 2020, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement.
The Japanese Defense Ministry reported a sighting of a Y-9 reconnaissance variant in the Pacific on Thursday.
Military encounters between China and the United States and its allies in the western Pacific have increased in recent years, as China has become increasingly aggressive in the East and South China seas, as well as around Taiwan.
Days before the quadrilateral exercise, the Philippine, US and Japanese coast guards held their first trilateral exercise off the coast of a province in the western Philippines.