• 80 percent of flights involved the P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft
  • A spy plane also flew over the Taiwan Strait on November 29
  • The think tank said the actual number could be even higher 

Taiwan Strait continues to witness increased military tensions as recent data from a Beijing-based think tank shows the U.S. carried out a record number of spy flights over the South China Sea last month.

According to the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), American spy planes made 94 of these sorties in November, reported South China Morning Post. The think tank revealed the figures on its official Weibo account Wednesday.

The data shows an increase of nearly 30 percent from the previous high, which was 75 flights in February. The think tank began reporting the data in June 2019.

Nearly 80 percent of the reconnaissance flights in November involved the P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft. The U.S. also deployed MQ-4C unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and the E-8C air-to-ground surveillance aircraft for the mission.

The most on a single day happened on Nov. 4, when 10 spy planes flew over the region, the same day the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group sailed through the disputed waterways. Before that, it was seven flights, on Jan. 23.

The planes also expanded their reconnaissance range as a U.S. Navy P-8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft flew over the Taiwan Strait on Nov. 29.

"During the operation, it was only about 15.91 nautical miles [29.46km] from the baseline of the Chinese mainland’s territorial waters," the SCSPI report said. The actual numbers could be even higher since some of the aircraft may have had their identification signals turned off.

However, a spokesperson for the 7th Fleet said in an email to Bloomberg News that the "U.S. Navy ships and aircraft routinely operate within the international waters of the South China Sea, and are committed to supporting its network of alliances and partners and upholding a free and open Indo-Pacific."

This comes as China ramps up military intervention in the region by sending a record number of planes into Taiwan's Air Defence Identification Zone.

Last week, China sent 27 warplanes into Taiwan's air defense zone, after which the island nation had to scramble its combat aircraft. The incursions also saw China's new aerial refueling tanker making its maiden appearance on the Strait.

Disregarding China's protest against U.S. intervention in Taiwan's independence, a group of US lawmakers arrived in Taiwan last week.

This marked the second such delegation in November and a fresh sign of American support just days after President Joe Biden invited Taipei to a democracy summit.

The United States runs regular operations in the South China Sea
The United States runs regular operations in the South China Sea AFP / Catherine LAI