China’s defense officials are keeping their eyes peeled on Singapore after the U.S. announced it was launching P8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft to the city state which is in the disputed South China Sea region.
“We are paying close attention to how the relevant situation develops, and hope bilateral defense cooperation between the relevant countries is beneficial to regional peace and stability and not the opposite,” the ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
China’s Foreign Ministry called the move an act to militarize the region.
The U.S. announced the flights on Monday after Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen visited the Pentagon. The first operation is expected to run until Dec. 14 with more likely to materialize in the next few months.
Ng on Wednesday told a seminar in Washington that the “rotational” flights over Singapore would add “substance” to Washington’s assurances that it would continue to act as a stabilizing force in Asia.
China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, a strategic and energy-rich region through which $5 trillion of ship-borne goods pass through each year. Beijing is currently defending its territorial claims in a lawsuit filed by the Philippines and overseen by an international court in the Netherlands.
Back in October, the U.S. sent a destroyer within 12 nautical miles of one of China’s artificial islands to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims and to defend freedom-of-navigation policies drafted by the United Nations.
Last month, the U.S. sent B-52 bombers near some of China’s artificial islands.
Although China maintains it has no intentions of militarizing the region, U.S. officials say it is building 4 airstrips on its artificial islands which can accommodate most military aircraft.
Beijing has repeatedly condemned the U.S. for launching spy aircraft into the contested region including during one instance in which the U.S. sent a P-8 with a CNN crew on board.
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