Tensions Growing – Upon U.S. Plane Flying Over Disputed South China Sea Airspace

December 23, 2015
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This time around, China complains of a United States plane flying over the disputed airspace near the Chinese artificial island in the disputed South China Sea, violating China’s sovereignty.

However, the U.S. negated China’s claim as it declared that the U.S. military plane did not intentionally entered the 12 nautical miles of Chinese territory. A senior U.S. defense official told CNN that the incident happened when the U.S. plane strayed into the disputed airspace near the artificial islands.

Also, the U.S. added that the military plane’s flight “was not part of a freedom of navigation” mission. This is different from the incident in October, when the U.S. sent the USS Lassen warship close to one of China’s artificial islands that is if the islands are considered by the U.S. as Chinese territory.

However, the Chinese Ministry pointed out that the U.S.’s sending of two B-52s on December 10 is a show of the U.S. “flexing muscles” and military provocation. China accused the U.S. of complicating and militarizing the South China Sea.

Further, China insisted that the U.S. should exercise preventive actions to avoid confrontation which might destroy “military-to-military” relations and usher in another era of conflict between countries.

In defense of the incident, Bill Urban, a U.S. Defense Department spokesperson, pronounced on Friday that the very recent incident was not meant to provoke the Chinese. He said “there was no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” he said in a statement. “This was not a freedom of navigation operation.”

Urban added that the flight of the B-52 is part of the U.S. routine training missions over the South China Sea. According to the U.S. defense spokesman, the missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail and operate anywhere allowed under international law.”

The tensions in the South China Sea have started to grow starting from the time China have reclaimed sandbars into islands. China has built up an estimated 2,000 acres of land in a massive dredging operation, creating artificial islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses.

Tensions have been growing since 2014 in the three main reefs in the Spratly Islands — Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reef, which are within the Philippines

The new islands created friction between China and the U.S. which has been sending its navy and air forces in the vicinity of the reclaimed islands, under the protection of international law and freedom of movement.

Also, in May, the U.S. flew over the islands, getting warnings from the Chinese navy. As China complained, the U.S. responded “We will fly, sail and operate anywhere in the world that international law allows. U.S. Freedom of Navigation operations are global in scope and executed against a wide range of excessive maritime claims, irrespective of the coastal state advancing the excessive claim.”

The South China Sea is subject to dispute by claiming nations, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. These countries have claims of sovereignty of several island chains and nearby waters in the South China Sea.

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