South China Sea: Australia steps up air patrols in defiance of Beijing


The BBC records a Royal Australian Air Force surveillance plane conducting an air patrol over the fiercely contested South China Sea.
Australia has stepped up military surveillance flights over the South China Sea in a signal to Beijing that it means to continue operating in the regional flashpoint area despite heightened tensions provoked by territorial disputes.

In a move that is likely to grate with the Chinese government, an RAAF P-3 Orion aircraft carried out patrols in the air space in recent weeks, prompting a demand from Chinese naval forces in the waters below to explain itself.

Defence confirmed the recent flight, though only after the plane’s presence happened to be noticed by a BBC journalist in the area, who recorded an Australian crewman telling the Chinese navy that the plane was “exercising international freedom of navigation rights”.
Chinese development at Hughes Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands chain in the South China
While such surveillance flights have been conducted for years in the South China Sea under Operation Gateway, their tempo has been increased in the past 12 to 18 months, it is understood.

This amounts to a calculated signal to Beijing that Australia does not accept the sea territory claims generated by China’s building of artificial islands in the area, which is subject to claims by Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and others.

The government played down the patrol, saying it was a routine part of Operation Gateway.

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