China likes to remind the world that THEY (the PRC – which is one of two Chinas) obey international law. But as with most nations including the USA – they obey the laws they wish to obey and reject those that they can get away with ignoring – sort the way that I do on a daily basis. You may recall that China’s claims on developing the South China Sea by creating islands were rejected by an international maritime tribunal two years ago. China said that the tribunal was “hostile toward China”, which justifies their actions…and their neighbors aren’t big or strong enough to whip them back to China.
On August 10th, a US Navy maritime surveillance aircraft, a P-8A Poseidon, with a CNN team aboard flew a track over the Spratly Islands. The mission was to obtain an update on the status of China’s militarization of the seven islets it occupies.
During the flight over Mischief Reef, Johnson Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, and Subi Reef, the CNN team reported it observed “large radar installations, power plants, and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft.”
At one outpost, onboard sensors detected 86 vessels, including Chinese Coast Guard ships.
During the flight a Chinese controller contacted the US aircraft and ordered it to depart Chinese airspace. A voice said: “US military aircraft, this is China … leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding.” This occurred six times.
The US aircraft asserted its right to fly in international airspace and completed its mission.
As China’s military capability to patrol the South China Sea has increased, its assertions of its claim to sovereignty have become more aggressive. However, China is in no position to engage in an armed confrontation with the US. Its challenges and warnings keep alive its claims of sovereignty. The means it will challenge every non-commercial flight or ship transit if only to prevent any party of accusing China of letting its claim lapse.