The United States intensified its military activity in the South China Sea last year, raising the risk of a confrontation with China in the strategically important waters, according to a Beijing-based think tank.
The US conducted eight so-called freedom of navigation operations in the year - three more than in 2018 - during which its vessels sailed within 12 nautical miles of land claimed or occupied by China, according to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative's annual report.
American forces also engaged in at least 50 joint and multiple exercises with countries from Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the region, it said.
At least three US amphibious assault ships and two coastguard vessels took part in the military exercises, while eight surveillance ships carried out long-duration missions, it said.
The report, which tracks US military activity in the South China Sea, came as tensions continue to rise between Beijing and Washington over issues from trade to technology and, most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Saturday, Beijing said that its air force and navy held a joint exercise in the South China Sea on March 10 to simulate face-to-face encounters with invading foreign aircraft and warships. On the same day, the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell was conducting a freedom of navigation operation near the disputed Paracel Islands.
According to the report, of the three US aircraft carriers that sailed through the South China Sea last year, the USS John C. Stennis stayed for nearly three weeks after a port of call in Thailand in February, while the USS Ronald Reagan engaged in two missions, including a high-profile joint exercise in which its strike group sailed through the waters near the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
Beijing's expansive claims over the South China Sea have increasingly been challenged by the US and its allies, which regularly conduct freedom of navigation operations through the waters. Beijing has accused the US and other nations of jeopardising stability in the region.
Patrols and overflights near the Paracel and Spratly island chains and through the Taiwan Strait had become "more retaliatory", the report said.
"As the strategic competition between China and the US has continued to intensify in recent years, the comparison of the navies have become evident, particularly in the South China Sea," it said.
"By carrying out freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and sailing through the Taiwan Strait, the US is making a retaliatory response to China, which is becoming a new trend."
In an effort to counter China's strategy of using paramilitary and coastguard vessels to promote its claims in the disputed waters, the US expanded its deployment of coastguard vessels in the region.
In April, USCGC Bertholf sailed into the South China Sea, while USCGC Stratton joined a training exercise with forces from Southeast Asia in June.
The report said the US was expected to continue to diversify its military capacities in the South China Sea, including enhancing the role of coastguard vessels and amphibious assault ships, raising the risk of conflicts between the two militaries.
"As China continues to modernise and strengthen its navy and air force, the US will become more concerned and increase its surveillance … against the Chinese military," it said.
"The risk of confrontation in the sea and in the air will increase."
Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.Artikel Asli