For two days in a row, U.S aircraft have been spotted flying near Taiwan. On Monday, a U.S. Navy Lockheed EP-3E reconnaissance plane was seen flying above the Bashi Channel, located just south of Taiwan. It then turned northwest over the South China Sea and then turned south toward Guangdong, a coastal province of southeast China that borders Hong Kong and Macau.

The next day at about 8:30 a.m. another plane, a Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, was detected again over the Bashi Channel heading directly for the South China Sea in the vicinity of the Dongsha Islands.

Both flights were reported by the Taiwan News in Taipei and are sure to increase Beijing’s concerns over the growing U.S. military presence in the South China Sea.

Dongsha is the Chinese name for the islands. It is also called the Pratas Islands, a name that was given to the atoll by the Portuguese in the 16th century. It is located about 200 miles (320 kms) off China’s mainland about halfway between Taiwan and Hainan and is a desired military location.

The Japan Times reported on May 14 that China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was making plans to run a military drill off Hainan Island in August. The large-scale landing drill is thought to be a practice run for a possible attempt by the PLA to capture Dongsha.

The U.S. flights were spotted by two aircraft spotters that use Twitter accounts to report their routes. One is called the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and was launched by the Peking University Institute of Ocean Research a few years ago. The other is Callsign: CANUK78 presumably out of China but this is not confirmed.

The SCSPI’s director is Hu Bo, director of the Centre for Maritime Strategy Studies at Peking University. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from the School of International Studies at Peking University and has extensive experience in policy analysis and consulting. The stated goal of SCSPI is to maintain and promote the peace, stability and prosperity of the South China Sea.

The spotters noted that in the past week several U.S. surveillance aircraft have all been seen in this area of the South China Sea including the P-8, Lockheed P-3 Orion, Boeing RC-135, UAVs and EP-3E.

The EP-3E reconnaissance aircraft is part of the US Navy’s VQ-1 squadron and its mission is to collect, store and analyze signals from radar and radio equipment.

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