The U.S. Navy’s spy plane P8-Alpha Poseidon conducted a reconnaissance, flying over the Gulf of Thailand Thursday, Sept. 5, and displaying the increased military co-operation between the United States and Southeast Asian countries.

The P8-Alpha’s reconnoiter flight is part of the first joint ASEAN-US maritime drills that started on Sept. 2, involving the United States and 10 Southeast Asian countries.

The joint operation involves eight warships, four aircraft from seven countries, and over 1,000 personnel.

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Analysts perceived the new US-ASEAN naval drills as a “balancing act” with Beijing that could help maintain peace in the disputed South China Sea by indicating that the United States will step in if Chinese aggression persists over the disputed waters.

Footage showed the P8-Alpha participating in a board-and-search drill. The surveillance aircraft simulates reconnoiters of suspect vessels and gives that information to the navy ships below.

Leader of the U.S. Navy P8-A Poseidon Lieutenant Commander Alex Yu-rank stated that they are “very excited to be participating in this international exercise with our partners and allies.”

Yu-rank said their mission helped to provide maritime field and situational awareness to our partner nations and countries, stating “It’s a great exercise to be a part of.”

The lieutenant commander said the “P8-Alpha is a Boeing 737, modified aircraft.” He continued, “We are a multi-mission aircraft,” tasked with communicating “with the surface vessels and providing them coordinates of targets of interests that they may be looking for.”

The five-day multifaceted exercise demonstrates the commitment to Southeast Asia, a move the United States had been fostering to counter China’s growing power in Asia, including the communist regime’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Various Southeast Asian countries have challenged China’s claims of ownership of nearly the entire strategically important South China Sea. China’s territorial claims overlapping those of other Southeast Asian countries led to the long-standing maritime disputes and collisions in the South China Sea.

Video footage of an incident in 2014 near the Paracel Islands—claimed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan—showed a Chinese coastguard vessel appearing to purposefully ram into a Vietnamese ship, causing damage to its starboard bow.

In another incident, in June 2019, a Chinese vessel rammed a Philippine fishing boat in the disputed South China Sea. The Chinese crew watched the fishing boat sank before sailing off, leaving 22 Filipino crew stranded in the high seas, until a Vietnamese fishing boat came to the rescue. Beijing denied the collision was intentional.