According to a recent report issued by a think tank in Beijing, the United States engaged in “intense military action” in China’s backyard despite the war in Ukraine.
In its yearly assessment of U.S. military activity in the South China Sea, the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Survey Initiative (SCSPI) claimed that the U.S. military emphasized military deterrence against China despite the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine in Europe.
The state-controlled Global Times said the United States regularly conducted extensive surveillance activities in the South China Sea and transited the Taiwan Strait with ships and planes.
Data from the South China Sea Maritime Territorial Indices (SCSPI) show that in 2022, the United States conducted almost a thousand reconnaissance flights over the South China Sea, many of which came within 13 nautical miles of China’s maritime territory.
Experts on China’s military responded strongly to the SCSPI report, saying the United States reconnaissance efforts only serve to anger China and demand additional actions from the United States “that go against China.”
Tensions between the United States and China had risen since August 2022, when then-Representative Nancy Pelosi of the United States visited Taiwan. China objected to the visit and countered by conducting massive combined military drills near Taiwan.
Tensions between the two rivals reached a fever pitch again in February of this year after the U.S. Air Force shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon. Since then, both sides have accused each other of provocation and surveillance.
U.S. reconnaissance tours in China
The think tank claims that on at least 13 separate occasions, American nuclear-powered assault submarines were spotted in the vicinity. There were eight such incursions into the South China Sea by Carrier Strike Groups and Amphibious Ready Groups.
According to the SCSPI, tensions in the Taiwan Strait increased after Nancy Pelosi visited the island of Taiwan in August 2022. The U.S. military’s advance deployment in the South China Sea was coordinated with those in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea.
According to the research, U.S. military activities against China in the South China Sea have escalated in both frequency and intensity since 2009. The report notes that this pattern persisted well into 2022 when the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out.
The war in Ukraine was not an impediment.
A Chinese military commentator, Song Zhongping, told the Global Times that Ukraine and its NATO allies are locked in a “proxy war,” so the U.S. did not significantly increase its military presence in Europe during the Ukraine crisis. However, he noted that the U.S. feels compelled to lead from the front in Asia-Pacific and have its allies follow in its footsteps to take on China.
According to the SCSPI, the United States regularly exaggerates Chinese legal interceptions as “dangerous” or “unprofessional” and actively politicizes its military activities.
In December last year, the United States military accused the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force of a midair interception over the tense South China Sea.
During intercepting an RC-135 aircraft flown by the United States Air Force, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPAC) claimed that a Chinese J-11 fighter pilot engaged in an “unsafe” maneuver. A video in support of the claim was then made public.
U.S. officials claim the Chinese pilot had to take “evasive” action when his plane came within mere meters of colliding with the much larger U.S. spy plane, as seen in video footage of the encounter.
The U.S. claimed that while performing routine tasks in international airspace, its planes were operating “lawfully.”
Australia and Canada have problems with China.
In addition to the U.S., its allies operating in the Indo-Pacific region—Australia and Canada—have also made similar claims.
For instance, in the summer of 2022, the Australian Defense Force claimed that PLA Air Force J-16 aircraft had conducted a risky interception of RAAF P-8 Poseidon aircraft. According to his account, the Chinese fighter jet also shot flares at the RAAF planes.
However, Chinese officials and experts have insisted that their country was acting lawfully. Experts from China at the time stated that aggressive close-range reconnaissance activities by Canadian and Australian surveillance planes over China in the East China Sea and South China Sea were “controlled” by PLA fighter jets.
They said that the two U.S. partners were blaming the PLA Air Force when, in reality, the PLA Air Force was at fault.
Reconnaissance missions throughout 2022
For months, China has accused the U.S. of extensive reconnaissance and military activity in the South China Sea. Hence, the SCSPI report is not the initial key that unlocks the box of mysteries.
For instance, a Chinese technology and intelligence firm called MizarVision claimed in February that the United States military used spy planes for close-range reconnaissance over 600 times in the South China Sea in 2022, citing information from the open Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast code system (ADS-B).
According to MizarVision, the actual figure may be higher because some U.S. aircraft disable or use fake ADS-B trackers. According to the company’s surveillance, similar short-range reconnaissance flights were also carried out in the East China Sea, most notably in August when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) carried out extensive exercises near the island of Taiwan.
Using data from the public Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast coding system, a Chinese technology and intelligence outfit called MizarVision claimed in February that the United States military conducted close-range surveillance using spy planes over 600 times in the South China Sea in 2022. (ADS-B).
The SCSPI emphasized that the United States should not use excessive deterrence or provoke China since this would only result in stronger countermeasures.