China asserted its right to monitor airspace and waters near its islands in the South China Sea on May 21 in response to reports of an exchange between the Chinese navy and a US surveillance plane.
The remarks came after a CNN news crew onboard a US air force P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane reported it witnessed an incident on May 20 in which the Chinese navy warned the plane to leave the area eight times as it flew over a Chinese island.
It said the US crew responded that they were flying through international airspace, to which the Chinese dispatcher answered: “This is the Chinese navy. We urge you to leave.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he was not aware of the incident, but reiterated Beijing’s indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and surrounding waters.
“China has the right to monitor the relevant airspace and waters to protect the country’s security and prevent accidents at sea,” he added.
He urged other countries to “abandon actions that may complicate and exaggerate controversies”.
Yin Zhuo, a senior expert on the Chinese navy, said the US armed forces always cite “freedom of navigation” when intruding into other countries’ waters and airspace.
Hong commented on remarks by US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken about China’s land reclamation operations on its islands in the South China Sea, saying the work is in line with China’s sovereignty and aims to provide a civilian service that will benefit other countries.
Blinken said on May 20 that the work risks provoking tension that could lead to conflict.
Hong urged the US to abide by the principle of not taking sides over the South China Sea, and said its groundless remarks will “encourage repeated provocations from certain nations”.
Also on May 21, Shen Jinke, a spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army air force, said the aviation division has for the first time flown across the Miyako Strait, the open sea between Japan’s Miyako and Okinawa islands, for deep-sea training in the West Pacific.
Shen said the move is intended to improve the division’s combat capability.
He said the training zone is in international airspace at altitudes not used by civil aviation, and the exercise abides by international practices. The training was planned previously and is not targeted at any country.