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U.S. military commander warns against China's pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus

08:49 | 06/06/2020

China is using the coronavirus as a cover to push territorial claims in the South China Sea through a surge in naval activity meant to intimidate other countries that claim the waters, the commander of U.S. Forces in Japan said on Friday, according to the Reuters.

us military commander warns against chinas pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of China occupied Subi Reef at Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands in disputed East Sea (South China Sea) April 21, 2017. REUTERS

There has been a surge of activity by China in the Vietnam's East Sea (Bien Dong Sea or South China Sea) with navy ships, coast guard vessels and a naval militia of fishing boats in harassing vessels in waters claimed by Beijing, said Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider, according to the reuters.

“Through the course of the COVID crisis we saw a surge of maritime activity,” he told Reuters in a phone interview. He said Beijing had also increased its activity in the East China Sea, where it has a territorial dispute with Japan.

Beijing’s increased level of activity would likely continue, predicted Schneider: “I don’t see troughs, I see plateaus,” he said.

China says its maritime activities in the area are peaceful. The press office at the Chinese embassy in Tokyo was not immediately available to comment outside of normal business hours.

us military commander warns against chinas pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus
The Subi Reef at Vietnam's Truong Sa (Spratly) Islands on 27/3. (Photo: CSIS)

Japan hosts the biggest concentration of U.S. forces in Asia, including an aircraft carrier strike group, an amphibious expeditionary force and fighter squadrons. In addition to defending Japan, they are deployed to deter China from expanding its influence in the region, including in the South China Sea.

The latest U.S. criticism of China comes as relations have frayed amid accusations by Washington that Beijing failed to warn it quickly enough about the coronavirus. China has dismissed that criticism as an attempt by President Donald Trump’s administration to cover up its own mistakes.

us military commander warns against chinas pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus
Royal Australian Navy helicopter frigate HMAS Parramatta (top right) conducts officer of the watch manoeuvres with amphibious assault ship USS America (top middle), guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (top left) and guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (right) in the South China Sea, in April. (Photo: the nbcnews)

Over the past months, as countries in the Pacific region were focused on battling the coronavirus, multiple sources reported that China stepped up patrols and naval exercises in the highly disputed East Sea (South China Sea), reported the dw.

us military commander warns against chinas pushing territorial claims under cover of coronavirus
With much of the world preoccupied with the coronavirus pandemic, China has continued to push its military objectives in the South China Sea. However, the US, Australia and Vietnam are not idly standing by. (Photo: AP)

Beijing has built military island bases on reefs in the energy-rich East Sea (South China Sea), in or near waters claimed by other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. It imposed a unilateral fishing ban until Aug 16.

"We call on the PRC [People's Republic of China] to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the East Sea (South China Sea)," the US Department of State said in a statement in early April.

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