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Navy denies cutting warships and reconnaissance in South China Sea

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The navy is not reducing warship crossings or aerial and naval reconnaissance operations in the South China Sea, according to a spokeswoman for the Pacific Fleet, despite new claims from the Chinese press.

The country’s official army newspaper, affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, People’s Liberation Army Daily, reported on Dec. 7 that “the number of US reconnaissance ships and aircraft to carry out provocative operations in the South China Sea has drastically decreased recently”.

But Lt. Cmdr. Marissa Huhmann, spokeswoman for the Pacific Fleet, said the report was not true.

“Our ships operate regularly and at the time and place of our choosing,” she said. “To say that our operations have declined would be inaccurate.”

Two Navy reconnaissance ships recently conducted surveys at sea ahead of a late November visit to the USS Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, according to US defense officials.

The reconnaissance vessels were identified as the oceanographic survey vessel USNS Henson and a Victorious-class ocean surveillance vessel USNS Loyal. The visits were first revealed on December 5 by Chinese news outlet “The Paper”, published by the Shanghai branch of the Communist Party of China, and later confirmed by US officials.

The ships were spotted near the Chinese south of Hainan Island, in the northern part of the sea, and northeast of the Paracel Islands, also in the northern part, The Paper said.

The operations would be part of a new US program called the Indo-Pacific Maritime Situational Awareness System, which is part of a global surveillance system.

The PLA Daily report claimed that the recent naval actions were different from previous larger deployments of US warships. Instead, the United States “simply sent an old cruiser and two reconnaissance ships to the South China Sea to carry out operations,” the military media said. China has repeatedly tried to raise doubts with US allies in the region about Washington’s determination to stay in the region and match Beijing’s growing military reach.

A Navy spokesman said the two reconnaissance ships are “operating in the Western Pacific on routine operations.”

On Nov. 29, the Navy denied Chinese claims that the Chancellorsville had been driven out of the South China Sea by Chinese warships. In the past, China has harassed navy surveillance vessels, claiming they violate Chinese sovereign waters.

In 2009, five Chinese ships surrounded the USNS Impeccable, a survey vessel, 75 miles south of Hainan Island in the South China Sea. The location suggests that the Navy vessel was at the time conducting hydrographic surveys related to China’s Yulin ballistic submarine base.

The Chinese ordered the Impeccable to leave the area.

A year later, the USNS Victorious is harassed by Chinese ships in the Yellow Sea.

Both vessels were operating in international waters, US officials insisted.

The exchange comes as the Biden administration appears to be seeking better relations with Beijing following President Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in November. A group of senior US and Chinese diplomats met Sunday and Monday in Langfang, a city near Beijing, and included Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink and Laura Rosenberger, Senior Director for China to the White House National Security Council.
Chinese officials included Vice Foreign Minister Xie Fen.

The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on international and regional issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters, including ways to avoid a conflict with China in the framework. US policy aimed at competing with China. The war in Ukraine, regional security threats and efforts to bring home US citizens wrongfully detained in China were also discussed, according to a senior Biden administration official.

Chinese reports indicate that the two reconnaissance vessels disguised their intelligence gathering as “marine hydrological and measurement” operations. In addition to reconnaissance ships, more U.S. submarines are carrying out underwater reconnaissance at sea, the media said, and in October, an Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance plane flew over the sea, it said. The media.

The surveillance vessels appear to be part of a new US and allied intelligence collection program announced in Tokyo in May, called the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA). The initiative was announced at a meeting of leaders of the so-called “Quad” nations – the United States, Japan, Australia and India.

According to a White House fact sheet on the initiative, the program will provide a “near real-time, integrated and cost-effective maritime domain awareness picture.”

“This initiative will transform the ability of partners in the Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region to fully monitor the waters off their coasts and, in turn, maintain an Indo-Pacific free and open,” the fact sheet reads. .

Targets for the program will include “clandestine shipping” and other tactical level activities like illicit rendezvous at sea.

The intelligence will be gathered using automatic identification systems on ships and radio frequency technology and centered in the Indian Ocean Region Information Fusion Center in India; the Information Fusion Center, based in Singapore; the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in the Solomon Islands and the Pacific Fusion Center, based in Vanuatu.

The Chinese claim that the United States was reducing naval and air operations was echoed by the liberal activist group Committee for a Sane US-China Policy. The group said in a statement Dec. 9 that China and the United States had recently reduced air and naval maneuvers near Taiwan.

China has aggressively stepped up its military operations around Taiwan with a large number of fighter jet flights and naval operations in response to the August visit to Taiwan by Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.



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