Australia has ramped up its military surveillance over a disputed area of the South China Sea, increasing the number of flights in the past 12 to 18 months.
In November, a BBC journalist recorded an Australian crewman of an RAAF P-3 Orion aircraft telling the Chinese navy it was patrolling the air space.
“China navy, China navy,” the airman said.
“We are an 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 surveillance, which was a routine maritime patrol in the region as part of Operation Gateway, drew no response from the Chinese navy.
The Australian reports that the aircraft did not fly within the 12-nautical-mile limit China claims around artificial islands it has built up or over the 500m safety zones around smaller reclaimed features.
In October, the US commenced a “freedom of navigation” operation using its guided missile destroyer USS Lassen to physically demonstrate the US Navy’s legal right to operate in the area, undeniably increasing existing tensions between the country and China.
Foreign minister Wang Yi said: “We advise the US to think again and before acting, not act blindly or make trouble out of nothing.”
At the time Australia backed away from the dispute, denying any involvement in the US action.
Defence minister Marise Payne said: “It is important to recognise that all states have a right under international law to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, including in the South China Sea. Australia strongly supports these rights.
“Australia is not involved in the current United States activity in the South China Sea.
“Australia has a legitimate interest in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded trade and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. Approximately sixty per cent of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea.”
The Australian has more on the development.
Now read: Why the South China Sea is so crucial.
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