China has sent several fighter jets to a disputed island in the South China Sea, threatening to escalate tensions with its neighbors and increase mistrust between Beijing and Washington, D.C.
The Shenyang J-11s and the Xian JH-7 planes were deployed to Woody Island, the same outpost in the Paracel chain of islands that China planted surface-to-air missiles last week, unnamed US officials told CNN and Fox News. Woody Island is in waters contested by Taiwan and Vietnam.
The precise number of planes deployed to the region is not clear, a US official told Fox News in a report published Feb. 23. The fleet, which was spotted in the past few days, was in single digits, the official said.
China’s latest South China Sea moves come as US. China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, arrived in Washington yesterday (Feb. 23) to meet with John Kerry, the US secretary of state.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Kerry called on all countries who contest various parts of the South China Sea not to escalate tensions by provoking their neighbors. “It is important for all of the nations—China, Philippines, Vietnam, others—not to engage in any unilateral steps of reclamation, of building, of militarization,” he said. “And the fact is that there have been steps by China, by Vietnam, by others that have unfortunately created an escalatory cycle.”
Wang, who spoke at the same conference, gave a roundabout answer that avoided responsibility for militarizing the region: “We hope the parties will work together in the same direction—that is to say, non-militarization is not the responsibility of one party alone; it’s something that we share.”
US Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr, commander of US forces in the Pacific, put the situation in much starker terms: “I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia,” he told a Congressional hearing on Tuesday. You’d, “have to believe in a flat earth to think otherwise.”
Wang’s trip to Washington was billed primarily as a chance for the two countries to discuss approaches to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and its recent satellite launch. But Wang’s scheduled visit to the Pentagon to meet with Ash Carter, the US defense department chief, was cancelled on Monday. It is not clear which side cancelled the visit, which was explained by the Pentagon press secretary as a scheduling issue.