South China Sea: US spy plane conducts closest fly-by manoeuvre amid surging tensions

South China Sea: Expert predicts no conflict for five years

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The SCSPI reported that a US Air Force RC-135U Combat Sent flew just 25.33 nautical miles past China’s coastline on March 22. The Peking University connected think tank said it was “the shortest distance US reconnaissance aircraft have reached from China’s coastlines, based on public data so far.”

According to images shared by the think tank, the spy plane passed closest to the coast of Shantou, a prefectural city in eastern Guangdong province just at the southern end of the Taiwan strait.

It also noted that two other US aircraft were in operation just south of Taiwan.

The US military has increased the frequency of daily spy plane flights and have been edging ever closer to Chinese territory.

The last closest pass-by was conducted last July when an intelligence flight flew within 41 nautical miles of the Zhejiang coastline just north of the Taiwan strait.

Other intelligence gathering flights have reportedly been conducted where US aircraft were disguised as civilian aircraft.

The SCSPI think tank, which announced the news, is not affiliated with any institution and is mainly funded by donation and non-profit investment.

Its members include experts and scholars from around the world, gathering data from both intellectual and open sources.

In their annual report, SCSPI noted that in 2020 there were nearly 1,000 air reconnaissance missions launched from several US bases in the Pacific.

The US has been conducting an increasing number of “freedom of navigation operations” in the region amid acts of “coercion and aggression” committed by China, according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully,” said Mr Blinken.

“And in particular, we will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way.”

Despite the accusations, Beijing has been working with the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) to create a “code of conduct” for the South China Sea.

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The ASEAN code of conduct aims to eliminate issues surrounding territorial claims in the resource-rich region after China claims 90% of its territory as its own.

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