The commander of the United States Forces Japan and the Fifth Air Force at Yokota Air Base has issued a warning, alleging that Beijing’s increased maritime activity in the South China Sea will continue following the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Through the course of the COVID crisis we saw a surge of maritime activity,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider claimed to Reuters in a Friday phone call.
The senior US Air Force official added that the increased naval activity of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and other Chinese sea-based forces, has been within the South China Sea and East China Sea, where there is a current territorial dispute between Beijing and Tokyo.
“I don’t see troughs, I see plateaus,” said Schneider, speaking on the future of this increased activity.
He asserted that vessels in the South China Sea have been harassed by China’s ships in recent months.
In recent weeks, the US has increased its own presence in the region and patrolled the South China Sea with two supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers based out of Guam. At the time, it was also reported that the PLAN was preparing for dual-aircraft carrier drills in both the East and South China Seas for August.
The US military’s recent comments come amid Washington’s accusations that Beijing failed to contain the novel coronavirus within the bounds of Wuhan, China.
China has also declared a fishing ban in parts of the South China Sea which runs from May 1 to August 16. The ban includes areas in the sea that are also claimed by Vietnam and the Philippines, though China has not arrested any fishermen from those countries for violating such restrictions in the past, according to AFP.