The US Air Force’s Pacific commander condemned Chinese military flights off Malaysia and Taiwan, describing them on Friday as “escalatory” and “destabilising”.
This week, 16 Chinese military aircraft flew over hotly contested waters off of Borneo prompting the air force to scramble its jets.
General Kenneth Wilsbach said these activities and an increased number of incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone “adds to the list” of Chinese “destabilising activities and also escalatory activities” in the region.
“We set ourselves up for miscalculations around the region when we have some of these activities when we’re getting into people’s airspace that we shouldn’t,” said Wilsbach.
Beijing claims Taiwan as part of China and has said the aircraft that appeared off Borneo over the South China Sea were on routine training and did not enter Malaysia’s territorial airspace.
Beijing has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over nearly all of the South China Sea to be without basis.
There is growing concern in the West that China’s ever-more-powerful military may try to retake Taiwan by force.
In recent months, the tempo of Chinese flights across the strait has increased dramatically, straining Taiwan’s air defence capabilities.
“I believe this is a strategy by China to invoke cost for the Taiwan airforce,” Wilsbach said, by forcing the Taiwanese airforce to react each time an incursion occurs.
Faced with dramatically improved Chinese military capabilities, Wilsbach also said the US Air Force was looking to cycle assets around the region and away from large bases, to make them more difficult to target.
“We’ve pretty much looked at every piece of concrete in the region and we’ve analysed it and assessed it for possible use as a place to operate to and a place to operate from,” he said.
“We have a significant database of information about every single airfield, a lot of them are not suitable for our needs, but a lot of them are.”