Above the South China Sea (CNN)The Chinese navy issued warnings eight times as a U.S. surveillance plane on Wednesday swooped over islands that Beijing is using to extend its zone of influence.
The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims. The militarized islands have also alarmed America’s regional allies.
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CNN’s Erin Burnett Wednesday night that the confrontation indicates there is “absolutely” a risk of the U.S. and China going to war sometime in the future.
READ: China cautions U.S. Navy on patrols
A CNN team was given exclusive access to join in the surveillance flights over the contested waters, which the Pentagon allowed for the first time in order to raise awareness about the challenge posed by the islands and the growing U.S. response.
CNN was aboard the P8-A Poseidon, America’s most advanced surveillance and submarine-hunting aircraft, and quickly learned that the Chinese are themselves displeased by the U.S. pushback.