The Chinese government is alleging an Air Force U-2 overflew a People’s Liberation Army training exercise, claiming it was a provocative act in a purported no-fly zone though U.S. officials dispute the allegation. At the same time, the Pentagon is warning allies of China’s military modernization and spreading influence.
The Chinese Defense Ministry said the U-2 “severely disrupted regular Chinese training activities,” and ignored bilateral guidelines on aerial and maritime safety, according to Reuters. U.S. officials say the flight was within international rules.
“China is firmly opposed to this and has made solemn representations to the U.S.,” the spokesman said, without providing details on the flight path or location of the drills, the news agency reported.
Pacific Air Forces, in a statement, said “A U-2 sortie was conducted in the Indo-Pacific area of operations and within the accepted international rules and regulations governing aircraft flights. Pacific Air Forces personnel will continue to fly and operate anywhere international law allows, at the time and tempo of our choosing.”
While China alleges the U.S. is watching its exercises, the U.S. Navy and allies are mid-way through the large-scale Rim of the Pacific 2020 exercise, with more than 50 individual training events occurring. While China and Russia have previously shadowed U.S. ships in this exercise, there has been no apparent maritime presence so far this year, USNI News reported.
The alleged incident comes as Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper is traveling through the Indo-Pacific on a trip to show the U.S. commitment to the region. Esper, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Aug. 24, warned of the growth of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army—a military allied not with a country but instead with the Chinese Communist Party. The PLA is modernizing and spreading its influence in a way that is “inimical to the interest of the U.S. and our allies.”
“The Communist Party’s emphasis on indoctrinating, modernizing, and tightening control over the PLA shows how China’s leaders view the military as central to achieving their objectives,” Esper wrote. “Prominent among these is to reshape the international order in ways that undermine globally accepted rules while normalizing authoritarianism, creating conditions to allow the Chinese Communist Party to coerce other countries and impede their sovereignty.”
The U.S. military has responded, through the National Defense Strategy, by modernizing its force through new technologies, and strengthening its relationship with allies.
“Unlike Communist China, the U.S. stands for a free and open global system, where all nations can prosper in accordance with shared values and longstanding rules and norms,” Esper wrote. “And unlike the armed forces of the U.S. and our allies, the PLA is a loyal tool of the Communist Party. As such, I urge all countries to examine—and consider curtailing—their relationships with the PLA to make sure they are not helping advance the Communist Party’s malign agenda toward our collective detriment.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:25 a.m. Aug. 26 to include a quote from Pacific Air Forces.