Australia’s air force chief said that China now challenges “nearly all” Australian surveillance flights over the South China Sea. Air Marshal Leo Davies told Sydney Morning Herald that the number of Chinese warnings to routine Australian patrols had increased, a byproduct of an increasing Chinese presence on disputed islands in the area.
The nature of challenges – radio broadcasts warning aircraft to leave the area – had not changed, much less escalated, Davies emphasized. The frequency however, has. “Nearly all” flights in the South China Sea were now being challenged by China. Davies attributed the rise in warnings to China’s island building and construction activities: “Because the Chinese have done the [land] reclamation, there is a greater Chinese presence,” he said.
“[W]herever we go on our normal Gateway patrol, we now find that there is an increasing number of locations where the challenge would occur,” Davies continued. He was referring to the “Operation Gateway” maritime patrols Australia routinely conducts in the North Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Davies acknowledged that Operation Gateway had recently seen a “slight increase” in patrols of the South China Sea relative to the Indian Ocean.
Despite the challenges from China, Davies said the patrols would continue, as Australia had a right to conduct them under international law. That accords with a statement from Australian Defense Minister Marise Payne in the wake of the latest freedom of navigation patrol by the U.S. Navy on January 30. Payne said that “Australian vessels and aircraft will continue to exercise rights under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea.”
Read more: http://thediplomat.com/2016/02/nearly-all-australian-patrols-in-south-china-sea-are-challenged-by-china/