MANILA - The commander of the United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) has confirmed that the US Air Force has been conducting reconnaissance sorties in the Indo-Pacific region, including the South China Sea, criticizing China for its "nefarious activities" in the waters.
Speaking to reporters in a teleconference from his headquarters in Hawaii, US Pacific Air Forces Commander General Kenneth S. Wilsbach also blasted the Asian nation for “taking over islands” that “do not belong to them.”
Wilsbach also justified these sorties, saying the United States wanted a “full understanding” of such Chinese activities in the South China and East China Seas.
"We’d like to know a lot of the other what I think is nefarious activities by the Chinese Communist Party... making islands in their international water space that never belong to them," the air force commander explained.
"We wanna be able to track their military activities, we wanna be able to understand any testing, and acquisitions with new equipment that they made, that is why we are collecting."
This includes, he said, “going in close proximity to islands that are claimed by other countries” and staging “simulated attacks” on US partners and bases.
“We are flying a fair amount of sorties throughout the Indo-Pacific region that are collecting intelligence,” he said.
“The reason why we are doing that is because of all of the activity that our adversaries are executing and we wanna keep a close eye on that because we use it for indications and warnings,” he added.
Wilsbach expressed the US' commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and ensured its presence in the region, with the US Air Force to continue flying in the area.
He also expressed optimism that the Philippines and the US would come up with an agreement on the Visiting Forces Agreement that will be able to meet their shared interests.
He was "confident" that the two countries will have "day-to-day training and real world operations" in relation to a mutual defense activity.
“I am not actually participating (in the negotiations) but I am confident that the two governments can come to an agreement and meet their shared interests and their individual interests and will get to a spot where we in the military, once the agreement is made, we can train together, operate together and, if called upon and directed by my bosses, you know, execute the tenets of the Mutual Defense Treaty,” he added.
The US air force official's statement came after Malaysia complained of China's “intrusion” into its exclusive economic zone earlier this week.
In 2017, Japan protested against Chinese coastguard vessels flying drones near disputed islands in the East China Sea and the Japanese Air-Self Defence Force scrambled an F-15 fighter jet to monitor them.
Over the past year, there have been frequent drone sorties over the South China Sea and near the coast of China, according to Beijing-based think-tank the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative, which monitors aviation activity in the region.
China claims 90 percent of South China Sea through its “nine-dash line”, which stretches as far as 2,000 kms from the mainland, including waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia.
— With reports from South China Morning Post