Manila alarmed at China warnings

The Philippines has expressed concern to Beijing over what it says is an increasing number of Chinese radio threats to Philippine aircraft and ships near fortified islands in the South China Sea.

Manila said in the second half of 2017 its military aircraft received Chinese radio warnings at least 46 times while patrolling near islands claimed by the Philippines but seized and reinforced by China in the Spratly archipelago.

The messages were “meant to step up their tactics to our pilots conducting maritime air surveillance in the West Philippine Sea”, a Philippine government report said, using the archipelago’s name for the resource-rich sea.

The authorities had raised their concerns with Chinese representatives in Manila, Associated Press reported.

China transformed seven rocky outcrops into militarised forts using dredged sand from the Spratly seabed. The military installations are close to islands occupied by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei also have overlapping claims with the Chinese.

The messages used to come from the Chinese coastguard ships but are now thought to come from the militarised islands using high-tech communications and surveillance equipment which has been installed alongside surface-to-air missiles.

“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,” said Commander Clay Doss of the US Seventh Fleet. “These communications do not affect our operations.”

The US Navy has deployed vessels and aircraft to patrol the South China Sea to promote what it claims is freedom of navigation but which Beijing sees as imperial meddling.

In January a Philippine airforce plane flying near the Chinese-occupied Gaven Reef was told it was “endangering the security of the Chinese reef. Leave immediately and keep off to avoid misunderstanding”, according to the government report.

Another message said: “Philippine military aircraft, I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences.”

The Filipino pilot reported seeing “two flare warning signals from the reef”.

China defends its right to defend what it regards as sovereign territory. It claims around 80 per cent of the sea.

By contrast, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the Philippines had welcomed Beijing’s donation of four patrol boats and 30 rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The donation followed the delivery last year of about 6,000 assault rifles and hundreds of sniper rifles, pistols and ammunition, said Philippine navy spokesman Commander Jonathan Zata.

One of the fortified South China Sea islands. Picture credit: YouTube