World / Reporter's Journal

US surveillance near Chinese coast a growing concern

By Chen Weihua (China Daily USA) Updated: 2014-08-25 11:17

US surveillance near Chinese coast a growing concern

Frequent surveillance and reconnaissance of China's coast by US military planes and ships has long been regarded a major hindrance to improving the bilateral military-to-military relationship between the world's two largest economies.

Over the years, China has repeatedly urged the US to stop such activities. That included a request made during Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan's visit to Washington a year ago.

The Aug 19 encounter of a Chinese fighter jet J-11 and a US Navy surveillance aircraft P-8 off China's southern coast is the latest reminder of the thorny issue.

While Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on Aug 22 accused the Chinese People's Liberation Army's plane of conducting a "dangerous intercept" and described the distance of 30 feet as "unsafe and unprofessional", Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun replied on Aug 23, saying the Chinese pilot's operations were "professional and keeping a safe distance from the American airplane".

Yang called the US accusations "groundless" and said the Chinese J-11 fighter was conducting routine identification and verification when the US P-3 and P-8 reached a distance of 220 km off China's Hainan Island.

In his statement, Yang said the large-scale and frequent close reconnaissance by the US of China's coast is the real danger for air safety and a source for accidents.

Over the years, many US experts, such as Douglas Spelman, a senior advisor at the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center, have also described the US' frequent surveillance of China's coast as "provocative".

Yang urged the US to earnestly abide by relevant international laws and practices and respect the security concern of countries along the coast.

He said China urged the US to take concrete measures to reduce and ultimately stop its reconnaissance off the Chinese coast in order to create a good environment for developing the bilateral military-to-military relationship.

However, at a news briefing at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where US President Barack Obama was on holiday, Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, called the Chinese action "a deeply concerning provocation" and said "what we've encouraged is constructive military-to-military ties with China, and this kind of action clearly violates the spirit of engagement."

The US side, including Rhodes, has clearly not realized the well-known Confucius adage: Don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you. To many Chinese, the simple question is how the US would react if the Chinese PLA Navy's surveillance and reconnaissance planes and vessels started regular and frequent operations near the US coast, such as off Florida, California or New York.

The US Navy's P-8 Poseidon aircraft spotted off China's coast on Aug 19 is a new militarized Boeing 737. It has been described by the US Navy as the most advanced long range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare aircraft in the world. The aircraft conducts regular maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, including in the airspace near China's coast in the South China Sea.

This is a clear indication that contrary to what the Chinese have expected, the US has been strengthening its reconnaissance off China's coast instead of reducing it. Such confrontation raises serious concerns over possible accidents such as a fatal one more than 13 years ago.

On Apr 1, 2001, a Chinese PLA Navy J-8 fighter jet and a US Navy EP-3 spy plane collided in mid-air over the South China Sea off China's Hainan Island. The accident caused the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei, leaving behind a wife and six-year-old son. The EP-3 made a forced landing on Hainan Island, with its 24-crew detained by the Chinese. The crew members were released on April 11 after the US delivered a letter to the Chinese, stating that the US was "very sorry" for the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei and "we are very sorry the entering of China's airspace and the landing did not have verbal clearance"

A bilateral military-to-military relationship between the two countries has long been lagging behind other dimensions such as trade, education and people-to-people exchanges.

Bilateral trade exceeded $500 billion last year, making the two countries each other's second largest trade partners. Meanwhile, 230,000 Chinese students were enrolled in US colleges and universities a year ago, making them the largest body of international students in the US. More Chinese tourists are visiting the US thanks to the loosening of visa policies on the US side.

But deep suspicion of strategic intentions remains despite the fact that bilateral military exchanges have picked up in the last two years.

Four Chinese PLA Navy ships - a missile destroyer, a missile frigate, a supply ship and a hospital ship with a total of 1,100 people onboard - just finished its first appearance early this month in the Rim of the Pacific exercise (RIMPAC) held in and around Hawaii Islands, the world's largest naval war games.

PLA Chief of General Staff Fang Fenghui visited the US in May, a month after US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paid his first visit to China in April.

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Related:China urges US to stop close-in surveillance


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