Ever since it authorized sea and air patrols to ignore China’s claimed exclusion and air defense identification zones around newly built islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. government has been coy about whether ships and aircraft were already crossing the lines. Now we may know why: PRThe U.S. gave CNN an exclusive on a recent voyage, allowing the network’s reporters on board a Poseidon surveillance aircraft as flew over one of China’s land reclamation projects built on the Fiery Cross and Mischief reefs. Though it’s not clear whether this was the first time the United States has flown a surveillance plane directly over the contested regions, it’s certainly the first time that it’s publicly acknowledged doing so. Chinese naval radio operators tried to warn the flight off a total of eight times, but the U.S. plane ignored them:
“This is the Chinese navy … This is the Chinese navy … Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding,” a voice in English crackled through the radio of the aircraft in which CNN was present.
This is the first time the Pentagon has declassified video of China’s building activity and audio of Chinese challenges of a U.S. aircraft. […]
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.
Though shadowboxing between Chinese and U.S. forces in the region has become a regular event, the decision to invite a CNN correspondent on board represents the latest escalation in a public relations war over Chinese projects the United States views as both threatening to regional order and illegal under international law. The Pentagon last week leaked that it was drawing up plans to regularly send surveillance planes and ships within the 12 mile exclusion zone the Chinese are claiming over their reclamation projects. At time of writing, China had not yet officially responded to this latest report, but it’s no mystery how Beijing will feel about the U.S.’ latest salvo in this PR campaign.