China on ‘combat patrols’ near disputed islands | Global News

China on ‘combat patrols’ near disputed islands

/ 04:04 AM August 07, 2016

BEIJING—China’s Air Force sent bombers and fighter jets on “combat patrols” near contested islands in the South China Sea, in a move a senior colonel said was part of an effort to normalize such drills and respond to security threats.

The exercises come at a time of heightened tension in the disputed waters after an arbitration court in The Hague ruled last month that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea.

The air force sent several H-6 bombers and Su-30 fighter jets to inspect the airspace around the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal, Senior Colonel Shen Jinke of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force said, according to state news agency Xinhua.


The patrols included surveillance and refuelling aircraft, Xinhua said, although it did not say when they occurred.


“The Air Force is organizing normalized South China Sea combat patrols, practicing tactics … increasing response capabilities to all kinds of security threats and safeguarding national sovereignty, security and maritime interests,” Shen said.

China has refused to recognise the ruling by an arbitration court in The Hague that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea and did not take part in the proceedings brought by the Philippines.

A dispute over the shoal, 124 nautical miles northwest of the Philippines mainland, was one of Manila’s main reasons for bringing international legal action against China in 2013.

Beijing has reacted angrily to calls by Western countries and Japan for the decision to be adhered to and has released pictures of aircraft flying over the shoal since the ruling.

China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stoking tension through its military patrols in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually.

China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have rival claims in the South China Sea.


The United States has conducted freedom of navigation patrols close to Chinese-held islands, to Beijing’s anger, while China has been bolstering its military presence there.

The tensions in the South China Sea came as Japan on Saturday also summoned Chinese diplomats to protest after six Chinese Coast Guard vessels approached disputed East China Sea islands accompanying a fleet of hundreds of Chinese fishing boats.

Protest filed

Japan said it filed the protest after its Coast Guard spotted the vessels along with a fleet of 230 Chinese fishing boats swarming around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands. China also claims the islands, calling them the Diaoyu. (See related story on The World, Page A11.)

Japan is demanding the ships leave the area. Three of the Chinese Coast Guard vessels were armed with what appeared to be gun batteries, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

The Chinese fleet has not intruded in Japanese territorial waters so far, it said.

China’s increasingly assertive maritime activities in the East and South China seas have raised concerns and tensions in the region. Japan has joined the United States, the Philippines and others in urging China to abide by international law following last month’s ruling.

But China maintains it doesn’t recognize the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Relations between Japan and China have been strained over wartime history, a sensitive topic for the region in times of war-end anniversaries during the summer.

China’s Coast Guard vessels routinely sail around the islands, usually in pairs or up to four. Until now, only one of the vessels was armed.

Saturday’s fleet size and equipment showed “an escalation of the situation that could heighten tensions in the waters,” the ministry said, without elaborating on what might have caused the increase.

On Friday, Japan also protested after two Chinese Coast Guard ships entered the Japanese-claimed waters around Senkaku.

There has been no immediate comment from Beijing.

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TAGS: disputed islands, Scarborough Shoal, South China Sea, Spratly Islands

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