The United States has deployed a P-8 Poseidon spy plane in Singapore for the first time, amid heightened tensions in the region over China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The weeklong deployment in Singapore, which began Monday, came as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter met his Singaporean counterpart Ng Eng Hen in Washington and signed a new agreement to step up defense cooperation.
In a joint statement, the two sides said the deployment would promote interoperability among regional militaries in exercises, and provide support for disaster relief and maritime security.
A US defence official said such deployments in Singapore were expected to become a regular occurrence, happening as often as every three months. The official did not have authorisation to speak publicly about the plans and requested anonymity.
The US and Singapore have longstanding defence ties. In the Asia-Pacific region, the US has also operated the Poseidon surveillance planes out of Japan and the Philippines, which are both US treaty allies.
As part of the Obama administration’s effort to step up its regional security presence in Asia, the US has in recent years deployed two littoral combat ships at the Southeast Asian city-state. Monday’s statement said the US plans a third deployment next year.
Such US military activity is viewed by China as an attempt to contain it, amid tension over Beijing’s large-scale construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, where China has competing claims with several of its neighbours. The US and others have called on Beijing to halt the construction and any militarization in the area, a key conduit for seaborne trade.
In late October, Washington angered China by sending a warship on a freedom-of-navigation patrol within the supposed 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around one of the land-reclaimed islands in the Spratly Islands archipelago. US surveillance flights in the area have also irked Beijing.
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