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The Beijing-based South China Sea Probing Initiative said a US U-2S aircraft took off from South Korea and passed near to China’s east coast. Newsweek reports the aircraft at one point passed within roughly 51 miles from the Chinese coast.
The South China Sea think tank said it is not the first time the US has flown a U-2 plane into a tense region of Chinese airspace.
It said: “Earlier in August, a U-2 once flew into a previously declared no-fly zone, where PLA was conducting [a] live-fire military exercise.”
The Lockheed U-2, also known as the ‘Dragon Lady’, has been operated by the US Air Force for 65 years. The aircraft first flew in 1955.
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Despite its age, the U-2 has a modular design, meaning it can be fitted with new technologies to ensure it can carry out modern missions.
Lockheed say the plane fills “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” roles and can operate at heights up to 70,000 feet.
The aircraft’s pass close to China comes amid tensions in the South China Sea region between Washington and Beijing.
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In October, the South China Sea Probing Initiative told Newsweek the US sends between three and five military planes into the South China Sea every single day.
The think tank added the yearly number of sorties is “almost twice as many as in 2009”.
It is unclear what China’s response was to the recent U-2 spy plane incursion.
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The incident did not appear to be mentioned in the regular daily press conference held by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
However, last month China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force reportedly scrambled two warplanes to warn off a pair of US bombers, according to a video that was shared on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
The two bombers, both B-1B models, appeared to have taken off from the US’ Anderson Air Force Base on the island of Guam.
The US set out its South China Sea stance earlier this year when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement blasting Beijing’s territorial claims in the region.
Mr Pompeo said: “Beijing’s claims to offshore resources across most of the South China Sea are completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them.”
He added that the US seeks to “preserve peace and stability” in the region and “uphold freedom of the seas”.
The relationship between the US and China in the South China Sea is complicated by Taiwan – of which the US has had a positive relationship this year.
Washington has sent a number of Government officials to Taiwan – something Beijing has criticised – and has carried out a total of six arms sales to the island nation worth billions of dollars in total.
The most recent such arms sale took place only this week and was worth $280 million.
Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen said this week: “Taiwan has been at the receiving end of such military threats on a daily basis.”
China said regarding the arms sale that Beijing would take “necessary countermeasures” without providing details.
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