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U.S. keen for military presence in region despite COVID-19: expert

ROC Central News Agency

05/08/2020 08:47 PM

Taipei, May 8 (CNA) The United States is keen to demonstrate to China that, despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, it is still capable of maintaining a strong military presence in key strategic regions of the Asia-Pacific, according to a Chinese military expert.

In an opinion piece published Thursday by the Global Times, a China-based media outlet that serves as a mouthpiece for the Communist Party of China, Li Jie (李杰) gave his views on increased U.S. aircraft activity near the Taiwan Strait in recent weeks.

The sorties, as Li explained, are the fastest and most convenient ways for the country to demonstrate its continued military presence in the region, despite four of its Pacific-based aircraft carriers having returned to port due to the coronavirus.

Li said the absence of the U.S. fleet presents a huge power vacuum in the South China Sea and the West Pacific.

Not wanting to lose its primacy as its bases across the region fight the pandemic, with many seamen moved ashore, the Chinese expert said he believes the aircraft maneuvers were deliberately executed by Washington to act as substitutes for its suspended naval force in the region.

Since March, the U.S. military has conducted over a dozen aircraft sorties in areas near the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, he said.

According to military air movement tracker Aircraft Spots, these sorties included the use of the RC-135U Combat Sent and the P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft.

By carrying out these activities, "Washington also wants to show certain forces in Taiwan that they still have the U.S. as backup," Li said, and that the country's military was not giving up its regional presence, despite the ongoing pandemic.

He also said he expects the U.S. to soon deploy its Rockwell B-1B Lancer supersonic heavy bombers from their bases in Texas to the Andersen air force base in Guam.

The planes, according to Li, will replace the Boeing B-52 Stratofortress strategic bombers currently stationed there, for the simple reasons that the B-1B has a larger payload, higher speed, and better stealth performance than the B-52H.

The decision-makers at the Pentagon are obviously trying to use bombers as a new tool to exert strategic deterrence against China, Li said, adding that he expects the B-1B bombers to be observed in the airspace near the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea sometime in May.

(By Chou Hui-ying and Ko Lin)


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