MANILA – The Chinese navy warned a Filipino plane carrying a British reporter near China’s man-made islands, a report by BBC said.
BBC correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes boarded a single-engine civilian aircraft and flew near Mischief Reef, one of the Chinese-controlled features in the Spratlys being claimed by both China and the Philippines.
However, as the civilian plane went near the reclaimed reefs, the Chinese navy gave a warning.
”Foreign military aircraft in northwest of Meiji Reef, this is Chinese navy. You are threatening the security of our station. In order to avoid miscalculations please stay away [from] this area and leave immediately,” a Chinese officer said, referring to the Chinese name for Mischief Reef.
The Filipino pilot responded: ”Chinese navy we are a civilian single-engine aircraft carrying passengers proceeding to Palawan Island.”
”Down below we can see a pair of Chinese navy ships. Our pilots are nervous. They wanted to turn away,” Wingfield-Hayes said in his report.
Mischief Reef is just one of the features in the Spratlys where China has carried out massive land reclamation works. The Philippines hailed China to a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal to invalidate China’s so-called ”nine-dash line” claim to almost the entire South China Sea.
China has refused to recognize the arbitration process, calling it a political provocation, but this snubbing did not bar the tribunal from hearing the case. The tribunal is finished hearing the merits of the case and is due to release its decision in the middle of next year.
While China refuses to recognize the arbitration process, some analysts believe a favorable decision for the Philippines would raise the pressure for Beijing.
READ: China may pay ‘international price’ in S. China Sea legal case, experts say
During the fly-by, BBC also captured a radio message coming from an Australian aircraft.
The Australian aircraft was apparently conducting a freedom of navigation operation.
”China navy, china navy, we are Australian aircraft exercising international freedom of navigation rights in international airspace in accordance with the international civil aviation convention, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – over,” the Australian pilot said.
A Reuters report said Australia’s defense department confirmed that one of its aircraft was involved in “a routine maritime patrol” over the South China Sea from November 25 to December 4.