Pentagon says China's military is challenging the US with 'risky' run-ins in the South China Sea during the pandemic
- The Pentagon says that the US
militaryhas had "unsafe" encounters with the Chinese military in the South China Seain recent months as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Reed Werner revealed to Fox News on Tuesday that there have been "at least nine" concerning incidents involving Chinese fighters and US aircraft over the contested waterway since mid-March.
- There was also an "unsafe" encounter involving a Chinese naval vessel and the US Navy destroyer USS Mustin last month.
The Pentagon says that the US military has had 'unsafe' encounters with the Chinese armed forces in the South
There have been "at least nine" concerning incidents involving Chinese fighter jets and US aircraft in the skies above the contested waterway since mid-March, Reed Werner, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Southeast Asia, told Fox News on Tuesday, explaining that China continues to engage in "risky and escalatory behavior."
A defense official told Insider that some incidents were considered unsafe, although the specific details behind the incidents are unclear.
Werner also told Fox that a Chinese escort ship sailing with a Chinese aircraft carrier group maneuvered in an "unsafe and unprofessional way" near the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin in the South China Sea last month.
Chinese media reports indicate that a Chinese navy flotilla led by the Liaoning was conducting "mock battles" in the South China Sea in late April.
Werner told Fox that the Pentagon finds "the current trend line very worrisome," adding that the US has lodged several formal and informal complaints in response to recent incidents.
"We've made démarches," he said, adding that this is a regular thing.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn said in a recent statement the Department of Defense is "concerned by increasing, opportunistic activity by the PRC to coerce its neighbors and press its unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea (SCS), while the region and the world is focused on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic."
The Department of Defense has said that US adversaries are trying to take advantage of the current global situation but has also stressed that the US military remains ready to meet that challenge and defend US interests.
The US military has increasingly sought to make its presence known in the South China Sea and the larger Indo-Pacific region, especially after the coronavirus sidelined US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The coronavirus originated in China, and both countries have blamed each other, even going so far as to promote conspiracy theories.
In recent months, US Navy ships have conducted patrols and freedom-of-navigation operations in the South China Sea, as well as Taiwan Strait transits, and US Air Force bombers have carried out patrols in the region.
US operations have continued since March. Navy vessels have conducted three FONOPS challenging China's territorial claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands. US ships carried out multiple presence operations near a South China Sea standoff. And Navy warships, including the large amphibious assault ship USS America, have conducted joint drills with other nations, and Air Force B-1B Lancers have carried out two strategic bomber patrols.
Following a recent FONOP, Senior Colonel Li Huamin, spokesman for the People's Liberation Army's Southern Theater Command, said that the US should focus on fighting COVID-19 rather than conducting military operations.
Tensions in the South China Sea, where the US and Chinese militaries have had a number of unpleasant interactions over the years, come as the US and China spar over the COVID-19 outbreak that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide.
The Trump administration, which has come under a lot fire for its handling of the coronavirus at home, has repeatedly criticized China's missteps, which the US asserts caused a troubling problem that began in China to evolve into a global crisis.
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