Thomas Daniel was quoted in Free Malaysia Today.

PETALING JAYA: Defence and foreign policy analysts are baffled by a China think tank’s claim that a US Air Force signals intelligence aircraft had masked itself using a Malaysian code as it flew over the South China Sea.

Thomas Benjamin Daniel, a senior analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS), said it did not make sense for any US aircraft to mask its identity as the US wanted to show clearly its presence in the region.

This week, Chinese government think tank SCS Probing Initiative said it had detected a USAF aircraft using a transponder code to electronically impersonate a Malaysian plane while spying on China’s military bases over the disputed South China Sea.

The think tank said the RC-135W aircraft had turned off its transponder shortly after departing from Kadena air base on Okinawa island at 3am on Wednesday. Popular Mechanics magazine, quoting the think tank, said the RC-135W aircraft flew a racetrack pattern between Hainan Island and the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

“If the US wants to conduct intelligence gathering flights or patrols without drawing attention to it, it is more than capable of doing so.

“The US also probably won’t use a transponder broadcasting the RC-135W’s signal. It is an area where they are known to frequently operate. Such flights can also serve as freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) – which they have no incentive to mask,”Daniel told FMT.

He said the US had been conducting highly visible naval and aerial FONOPs in the South China Sea for years, to challenge what they view as China’s excessive maritime claims.

Lam Choong Wah, a former fellow at Research for Social Advancement, said the US had always wanted to maintain its presence in the South China Sea.

“The US’s policy is always very loud and clear that they explicitly want to maintain their dominant position in the western Pacific. The US feels uncomfortable if its dominant position is challenged by any party.”

If the report’s claims were true, he suggested that the Malaysian government lodge a protest against the US and initiate an investigation, as the US action, if true, would be an insult to Malaysia’s sovereignty.

This article was first published iFree Malaysia Today on 21 September 2020

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