On July 30th, the Philippines concerned due to an increasing number of Chinese radio messages sent to Philippine aircraft and ships, as contained in an undisclosed Philippine government report, cited by The Associated Press.
The messages are warnings for the ships to stay away from newly fortified Chinese-made artificial islands which are also claimed by the Philippines, unnamed officials said, cited by The Associated Press.
The report, cited by The Associated Press, said that in the second half of 2017, Philippine military aircraft received Chinese radio warnings at least 46 times while patrolling near artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea’s Spratly archipelago.
As reported by The Associated Press, Philippines officials have expressed their concern twice in 2018, the first time being in a meeting with Chinese officials in Manila. The meetings were reportedly focused on the two countries’ unresolved disputes. The Associated Press is citing two officials who have wished to remain anonymous.
China is driving away vessels and aircraft from its artificially created islands in the South China Sea. They were made by transforming seven disputed reefs into islands using dredged sand in the Spratlys. They are in close proximity to islands occupied by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. However, Malaysia and Brunei also have a claim on the chain of islands, atolls and islets.
The anonymous officials, cited by The Associated Press, said that the messages used to originate from the Chinese Coast Guard ships since construction of the islands began in 2015. However, unnamed military officials, cited by The Associated Press, suppose that transmissions are now coming from the islands themselves, where there is powerful communications and surveillance technology present, in addition to surface-to-air missiles.
The Associated Press also quoted Philippine air force chief Lt. Gen. Galileo Gerard Rio Kintanar Jr. who said: “They do that because of their claim to that area, and we have a standard response and proceed with what we’re doing.”
In April 2017, Chinese forces attempted to radio drive away two Philippines military aircraft. The airplanes were carrying Philippine defense and military chiefs, along with other top security officials and about 40 journalists, to Philippine-occupied Thitu island. The island is located more than 22 kilometers from Subi Reef, which at that point was turned into one of the Chinese artificial islands. Thus, China warned that the Philippine planes were trespassing on their territory, however the aircraft responded that they were flying above Philippine territory.
The US Navy has also reportedly observed an increase in Chinese radio queries to foreign ships and planes that operate in the South China Sea. Cmdr. Clay Doss, a representative for the US 7th Fleet was quoted by The Associated Press: “Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea. These communications do not affect our operations.” However, he added that if communications with foreign militaries are unprofessional, “those issues are addressed by appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
China has repeatedly warned and objected to US activity in the region. However, The Associated Press, in February 2018, cited Lt. Cmdr. Tim Hawkins who said: “International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
In addition to that, on May 31st during a Department of Defense press briefing, Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. expressed his confidence in US ability to deal with the Chinese outposts in the region in case of an escalation. His words were: “The United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands. It’s just a fact.”
On May 23rd, the US also rescinded its invitation to China to participate in the Rim of the Pacific (Rimpac) military exercise. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan said the Defense Department has withdrawn its invitation to the Chinese military. His words were: “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned the action as “unconstructive.” His words being: “We hope the U.S. will change such a negative mindset, China is only building civilian and some necessary defense facilities on our own islands. That is the right to self-defense and preservation of every sovereign state.” This is the first time since 2014 when China will not participate in Rimpac.
On July 12th, 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled overwhelmingly in favor of claims by the Philippines and is likely to increase global diplomatic pressure on Beijing to scale back military expansion in the South China Sea. However, Chinese President Xi Jinping immediately rejected the decision and said that China’s “territorial sovereignty and marine rights” in the seas shall not be affected. Beijing further argues that it must defend its sovereign territory in the face of increased frequency of US Navy freedom-of-navigation operations in the area. As reported by Business Insider, since the start of the Trump administration more than 6 such operations have been conducted in the region.