China conducts bomber flights over South China Sea

19 July 2016

China has reacted to last week’s ruling by an international court against the legality of its claims to the South China Sea with a series of military maneouvres and assertive statements.

The contested area is rich in undersea resources and a major international shipping lane. 

On Monday China announced it had recently conducted a combat air patrol over the area, and said that it would start to do so regularly.

A senior Chinese naval commander also said the country had no intention of stopping building in the South China Sea. 

And an announcement by China’s Maritime Safety Administration said it would cordon off an area of the South China Sea to conduct military exercises close to China’s Hainin Island.

China’s claim to a historic right over large swathes of the South China Sea, the part of the pacific stretching from the Taiwan Strait to Singapore, was refuted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) last week as a long-running case brought against China by the Philippines came to a close.

The PCA also found China in violation of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and ruled many of the of land masses China has claimed sovereignty over, and in some cases has been building on, were “rocks” and not “islands”. 

China has consistently stated it does not recognise the legitimacy of PCA to rule in this instance, and has subsequently been keen to show it will not change its behaviour in the area because of the ruling.

Shen Jinke, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force spokesman, told China’s state owned Xinhua news the PLA sent multiple aircraft to patrol the contested islands including Scarborough Shoal, know in China as Huangyan Island. 

“To effectively fulfill its mission, the air force will continue to conduct combat patrols on a regular basis in the South China Sea,” said Shen.

Xinhua released photographs of a H-6K strategic bomber flying over the shoal.

On Monday, Wu Shengli, commander of the PLA Navy, said: "We will never stop our construction on the Nansha Islands... the Nansha Islands are China's inherent territory, and our necessary construction on the islands is reasonable, justified and lawful."

Wu made the remarks during a meeting with a visiting US naval delegation lead by Admiral John Richardson.

Despite asserting China's militarily preparedness to defend its territorial claims, Wu also used the opportunity to say cooperation between China and the US navies was the “only correct option”, Xinhua reported.

China recently conducted live fire military drills in the area, ending the day before the PCA announced its verdict.

In a white paper released as a response to the PCA’s ruling, China said “ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight and safety of sea lanes in the South China Sea is crucial” to its interests.

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