A US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flying 16,500 feet from China’s man-made islands over South China Sea was warned six times by Chinese military to get out of their territory.
The flight included CNN International, which was able to witness the exchanges between the US and Chinese military.
“US military aircraft, this is China. Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,” a voice said.
The US Navy crew responded with: “I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state. In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.”
The US plane flew over four of China’s artificial islands — Fiery Cross, Subi Reef, Mischief Reef and Johnson Reef.
“What we saw [include] an incredible amount of infrastructure and development in the three years since CNN last boarded one of these planes and was able to fly through that area,” said CNN correspondent Ivan Watson in his report.
China claims most parts of the South China Sea, including waters close to the shores of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The ruling on a challenge brought by the Philippines, the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claim in July 2016.
But the Duterte administration set aside the ruling in exchange for economic opportunities and friendly ties with Beijing.
Early this year, the Inquirer published close-up surveillance images of China’s reclaimed features now equipped with runways, radar towers, missile shelters and other military facilities. The photos showed that the bases are almost operational and awaiting the deployment of personnel and aircraft.
China insists that the facilities on its man-made islands in the Spratlys are primarily for civilian purposes and they have “indisputable sovereignty” over the area. /jpv