Chinese Spy Ship Stalks US Warships During Military Drills

REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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At least two Chinese surveillance ships kept a close eye on U.S. Navy ships conducting military drills just outside of Philippine territorial waters in the South China Sea, according to media reports Monday.

U.S., Philippine and French warships initially set off from Puerto Princesa, the Philippines, on Thursday to complete the maritime component of the Balikatan 2024 military exercises, U.S. Naval Institute News reported. Once they entered international waters of the South China Sea to which Beijing has laid claim on Saturday, two People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships were spotted stalking the multilateral formation within a few nautical miles, multiple outlets reported.

One of the vessels, the Tianwangxing, a PLAN Type 815-class electronic surveillance ship, was identified around 50 nautical miles from Western Palawan in the Philippine exclusive economic zone, state media reported. The Tianwangxing approached within two nautical miles of the USS Harpers Ferry, interfering with the American warship’s live-fire drill, according to a TaiwanPlus reporter embedded on one of the Philippine Navy ships. (RELATED: US-China Military Talks Over Chinese Aggression In Air And Sea Resume After Tense Two Year Break)

However, two U.S. spokespersons for the exercises denied PLAN surveillance operations had disrupted that drill to USNI News.

On Sunday, a third PLAN vessel came within nine nautical miles of the formation, according to USNI News.

“I cannot speak for them but we are monitoring them, and we record then we report whatever our ships are monitoring in the area,” Armed Forces of The Philippines Western Command (Wescom) spokesperson Capt. Ariel Joseph Colom said of the Chinese spy vessel on Sunday, according to state media.

The ships participating in the exercises are the BRP Ramon Alcaraz and landing dock BRP Davao Del Sur; the U.S. Navy’s landing ship dock Harpers Ferry and the French Navy’s Floreal-class frigate FS Vendémiaire.

“As long [as] we continue to monitor and report them, we are in control of the situation,” he said, noting that the first Chinese ship had exited the area by Saturday.

The maritime portion of the exercises wrapped up on Monday. The amphibious vessel USS Somerset joined the formation trailed by the PLAN Type 51B Luhai-class destroyer Shenzhen, according to USNI News.

This year’s Balikatan drills pushed the envelope of what they have historically included as the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines has strengthened in response to China’s aggression. Exercise plans viewed by USNI News described “sailing within the bounds of the Philippines’ economic exclusive zone” and training for freedom of navigation operations.

“Balikatan is a tangible demonstration of our shared commitment to each other. It matters for regional peace and stability. When we increase our mutual response and defense capabilities, we strengthen our ability to promote regional security and protect our shared interests,” Lt. Gen. William Jurney, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific commander, said during the exercise’s opening event, according to USNI News.

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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