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Game of Thrones in Asia
U.S. Sends CNN, Spy Plane Over S. China Sea

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: PR

The 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.

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  • Dan Greene

    “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.”

    The premise that China has claimed exclusion and ADI zones around its artificial islands is false. China has claimed the right to do so but has not actually done it:

    “Speaking at a regular news conference, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying said China would be within its rights to set up a zone, though the situation in the South China Sea was currently peaceful. “Of course China has the right to set up an Air Identification Defence Zone, but we’ve previously said many times before whether or not to set one up hinges on whether air safety is being threatened and the level of threat. At the same time all sorts of considerations need to be taken into account. At present we believe that generally speaking the situation in the South China Sea is stable. China and the countries of ASEAN have good relations. Both sides are dedicated to promoting win-win cooperation and jointly maintaining the peace and stability of the South China Sea,” said Hua.”

    http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/global-filipino/world/05/07/15/china-claims-right-set-air-exclusion-zone

    This Reuters article contains this speculation from an unnamed Philippine official on the potential goal of the Chinese: “China could be “testing the waters” to see if it can enforce an air exclusion zone above the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, said a Philippine air force official who declined to be identified.”

    So, the US move is probably aimed at preempting any such move by China. In the long run, it doesn’t make that much difference, as the island building will continue and the strategic value of China’s infrastructure in the Spratleys improved pending such time–well down the road–as China is prepared to assert its claims–however they evolve–more forcefully. Given the rapidity of Chinese construction, they may have been aiming at establishing “new facts on the ground” as the Israelis say. But unlike illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, we are in no mood to avert our gaze from the Chinese island project.

  • Anthony

    There is good news and bad news for analysts who fear China’s rise: thediplomat.com/2015/05/balancing-china-and-the-realist-road-to-war/

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