China Says US Increasing Spy Activity In South China Sea
BEIJING - China has accused the United States of increasing spy activity in the South China Sea after the US deployed three surveillance vessels and the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the region ahead of joint exercises with the Philippines.
Aircraft Carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has also entered the South China Sea on Friday, prior to the US and Philippines exercises called "Balikatan 22" that are set to take place from March 28 to April 8th, 2022 and will involve around 8,900 members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and 5,100 U.S. military personnel according to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
Marine Traffic data shows the USNS Bowditch survey ship is currently located in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone (EEZ) about 50 nautical miles east of Danang and 90 nautical miles Hainan, China.
The USNS Effective has entered waters about 250 nautical miles from the Scarborough Shoal, northwest of the Philippines. A third surveillance vessel called USNS Loyal has also been located east of Taiwan.
Chinese state-run media Global Times called the vessels 'spy ships' that carry out reconnaissance of 'underwater targets' and in support of anti-submarine warfare, quoting the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI).
The Global Times stated, "The US spy ships' intensive activities near China show that the US values underwater warfare in its concept of a potential conflict with the PLA, as it knows that surface vessels would not survive for long in waters near China because of the PLA's anti-ship capabilities".
"If the US Navy gets footholds in those underwater regions, they could pose serious threats to China, so China must raise its alert level and be prepared" the Global Times added.
Carl Schuster, who is a retired U.S. Navy Captain and former director of operations at the United States Pacific Command's Joint Intelligence Center stated, "If the US Navy gets footholds in those underwater regions, they could pose serious threats to China, so China must raise its alert level and be prepared".
"China’s survey ships do similar operations so in many ways, China’s description of the American ships provides an insight into how China uses its survey ships" he added.
Marrine Traffic shows that a survey ship has been deployed by China in the region as well, in addition to the Yuanwang-5 that is currently located east of Taiwan, though it is not clear what its destination is.
According to the U.S. Embassy in Manila, Philippines the Balikatan 22 exercises will be "one of the largest-ever iterations of the Philippine-led annual exercise".
The Embassy stated that "Balikatan is a critical opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with our Philippine allies toward a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific that is more connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient,’ as our Indo-Pacific Strategy calls for. The U.S. is proud to continue our participation in this long-standing exercise".
General Jay Bargeron, a 3rd Marine Division Commanding General stated, "During Balikatan, the U.S. military and AFP will train together to expand and advance shared tactics, techniques, and procedures that strengthen our response capabilities and readiness for real-world challenges".
"The friendship and trust between our forces will enable us to accomplish any mission across the spectrum of military operations".
Major General Charlton Sean Gaerlan, AFP Exercise Director for Balikatan 22 stated, "Exercise Balikatan is a testament to the strength of the Philippines and United States’ security relationship. The experience gained in the exercise complements our security cooperation endeavors and will help to enhance existing mutual security efforts".
Balikatan is a Tagalog term in the Philippines that means "shoulder-to-shoulder" or "sharing the load together" which accurately reflects the spirit of the exercises between the two countries.
"Balikatan 22 coincides with the 75th anniversary of U.S.-Philippine security cooperation and a shared commitment to promoting peace. Our alliance remains a key source of strength and stability in the Indo-Pacific region", Major General Bargeron said of the joint exercises.