It goes without saying that US-China relations have reached their lowest point in decades, with a former Trump administration trade official warning the spike in tensions brought on by the coronacrisis on the heels of the trade war has marked "the start of a new Cold War".
Former top White House trade negotiator Clete Willems told CNBC's Squawk Box Asia on Tuesday: “The reality is that tensions between the United States and China are rising considerably at the moment.”
“I know people get uncomfortable with the terminology, but I do think we have to be honest and call this what it is and this is the start of a new Cold War and if we’re not careful, things could get much, much worse,” Willems added.
Which is what makes the uptick in American long-range bomber activity over the East China Sea — right on the Communist country's doorstep — all the more dangerous.
In what appears at least an indirect warning reasserting US defense readiness in the wake of the military being severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the US Air Force on Thursday published a series of photos showing a B-1B strategic bomber mission over the East China Sea this week, involving aerial refueling as well.
A @usairforce B-1B Lancer gets refueled by an @AirNatlGuard KC-135 over the East China Sea in support of the @INDOPACOM Bomber Task Force.#DKY, the KC-135 comprises 87% of the tanker force. #Togetherwedeliver #NKAWTG@AFGlobalStrike @US_Stratcom @PACAF @121ARW @AirMobilityCmd pic.twitter.com/7ca05NH91W— USTRANSCOM (@US_TRANSCOM) May 7, 2020
Aviation monitoring sites tracked two US B-1B supersonic bombers which took off from Guam toward the East China Sea, nearing Taiwan's northeastern maritime border along the way.
Crucially, it's the 15th such US military flight approaching Taiwan's contested borders since the beginning of April, and the third bomber approach since the start of this month.
#BTF Bones conduct a training mission in the East China Sea in support of the National Defense Strategy objectives of being strategically predictable and operationally unpredictable. #FreeAndOpen @usairforce @DeptofDefense @INDOPACOM pic.twitter.com/uCAiRH6a7x— PACAF (@PACAF) May 4, 2020
Marking the 15th U.S. military flight to approach Taiwan's borders since the start of April, according to Taiwan's CNA news, the flight path showed that the two bombers departed from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam toward the East China Sea and near Taiwan.
Prior flights over or near Taiwan-claimed waters have included reconnaissance flights as well, said to be carefully monitoring developments in China amid the pandemic.
USAF B-1Bs LANDO01 & 02 departed Andersen AFB, Guam and conducted a mission over the East China Sea.— Aircraft Spots (@AircraftSpots) May 4, 2020
USAF KC-135R LIVID11 provided tanker support. pic.twitter.com/QT09YDCd6A
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs meanwhile warned that while it respects international airspace rights, it condemns any violations of its territorial integrity.
And as a reminder, Beijing of course views Taiwan and the waters around it as precisely this.