Chinese question risk of war after US navy plane’s overflight

Beijing (dpa) – A US navy surveillance plane flew over disputed islands in the South China Sea, prompting the Chinese navy to issue several warnings, a news report said Thursday.

“This is the Chinese navy … Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding,” a radio message in English told the P8-A Poseidon surveillance and submarine-hunting aircraft Wednesday, according to journalists from the US broadcaster CNN who were on board.

The latest encounter comes amid growing international concern that Beijing plans to impose air and sea restrictions once it completes land reclamation and construction of military facilities on seven disputed islands.

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CNN the confrontation indicates there is “absolutely” a risk of the US and China going to war in the future.

But Chinese experts said such pronouncements were exaggerations.

“This whole thing will look like a giant performance with both sides making strong postures but taking no decisive actions,” said Chu Yin, associate professor of international relations at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

“After all, China and the US have many beneficial areas of cooperation, especially in the economy,” he said.

“China is recently constructing some islands in the South China Sea, but US surveillance aircraft have been flying over the South China Sea for years,” said ​Zhao Chu, deputy director of the Shanghai National Defense Strategy Research Institute.

“I think it is an over-reading to put these two things together. Tensions have increased but we are still very far away from having a conflict or even a war breaking out,” Zhao told dpa.

The United States has criticized China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea, including several island groups and coral reefs administrated by South-East Asian countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Thursday reiterated Beijing’s claim of indisputable sovereignty over the islands and surrounding waters.

“China has the right to safeguard national security and prevent maritime accidents and hopes [other countries] will not take action to complicate or expand the dispute,” Hong said.

The CNN report said the radio warning was broadcast from an island made by China around 850 kilometres from its coastline.

The US pilots responded to each of the eight warnings by stating that they were flying through international airspace, according to the journalists, which the Pentagon specially allowed on board to raise awareness about the South China Sea issue.

The operator at the other end reportedly replied on one occasion with exasperation. “This is the Chinese navy – you go!”

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