China protests after US Air Force flies U-2 spy plane over live-fire PLA-declared no-fly zone

China’s Ministry of National Defense issued a statement, Tuesday, August 25, accusing the US military of “naked provocation,” after a US Air Force U-2 high-altitude surveillance plane flew over a no-fly zone during live-fire military exercises earlier that day.

The People’s Liberation Army had declared a no-fly zone over the Bohai Sea, one of three areas where the PLA is holding concurrent military exercises along the coast of China. The live-fire military drills are being held from August 22 – 26.

China’s statement claims that a US U-2 broke into the no-fly zone arbitrarily on August 25, seriously disrupting China’s “normal” military exercises, and training activities. The action severely violated the China – US maritime and air safety code of conduct and relevant international practices, China’s MOD stated.

The statement urged the United States to immediately stop such provocative actions, and to take concrete actions to maintain peace and stability in the region.

China firmly opposes the U-2 flight over the PLA military exercises, and has lodged “solemn representations” (Chinese officialese for “diplomatic discontent) with the United States over the incident.

Current Military Drills not normal

But far from “normal” military exercises, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece “Global Timesclearly stated on August 13 that the current military drills are actually aimed at “a certain major country” which has sent “the wrong signal to Taiwan Independence forces.”

Quoting the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theater Command, the Global Times report noted that the drills cover the Taiwan Strait at its northern and southern ends.

“The drills of the PLA Eastern Theater Command send a clear warning to Taiwan and the US, which declare the Chinese mainland’s firm will that it will not sit still in the face of US and Taiwan provocation, and erosion of the “one China” principle. Taiwan and the US should abandon their illusion that they can smoothly upgrade their official ties, as this process is bound to be accompanied by the risks they could hardly bear,” the Global Times continued.

“The Chinese mainland will not allow Taiwan to increase its bargaining chip to seek “independence” by acting as a strategic US pawn. The increasing collusion between Taiwan and the US will only lead to greater risks for the island, including severe turbulence and uncertainties in its economic environment. The comprehensive losses of doing so will far exceed the gains, and Taiwan will likely push itself to the dangerous brink of war,” the Global Times editorial warned.

Historical Precedents of U-2 flights over China

First deployed during the Cold War, the Lockheed U-2, nicknamed “Dragon Lady” is a single-jet, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft capable of flying at an altitude of more than 21, 000 meters.

U-2 flights over China were deployed during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958 to see if the the PRC was preparing to invade Taiwan.

From 1958 to 1974, U-2s were based in Taiwan and flown by Taiwan’s ROCAF Black Cat Squadron, with the main objective being to assess the People’s Republic of China’s nuclear capabilities. During that period, five of the aircraft were shot down over China, with 3 pilots killed and two captured.

U-2C 56-6691 wreckage (shot down on 10 January 1965) on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, Beijing
U-2C 56-6691 wreckage (shot down on 10 January 1965) on display at the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution, Beijing. Picture: Wikipedia, Ben Wong.
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