US condemns 'escalatory' Chinese military flights off Malaysia and Taiwan

A Chinese military plane flying over hotly contested waters off Borneo on May 30, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (AFP) - The United States Air Force's Pacific commander condemned Chinese military flights off Malaysia and Taiwan, describing them on Friday (June 4) as "escalatory" and "destabilising".

This week, 16 Chinese planes flew over hotly contested waters off Borneo, prompting Malaysia's air force to scramble jets.

General Kenneth Wilsbach said these activities and an increased number of incursions into Taiwan's air defence zone add 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," he added.

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.

China has ignored a 2016 international tribunal decision that declared its historical claim over nearly all of the sea to be without basis.

There is growing concern in the West that Beijing's ever-more-powerful military may try to retake Taiwan by force.

In recent months, the tempo of Chinese flights across the Taiwan Strait has increased dramatically, straining the island's air defence capabilities.

"I believe this is a strategy by China to invoke cost for the Taiwan air force," Mr Wilsbach said, by forcing the Taiwanese air force to react each time an incursion occurs.

Faced with dramatically improved Chinese military capabilities, Mr 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."

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