The South China Sea has long been a major field of contention between the United States and China, with the US actively challenging China’s claim to sovereignty over most of the sea within a nine-dash line, and constantly sending ships and planes into the area asserting freedom of navigation in what it considers international waters. China, however, sees these flights as provocations.
The South China Sea is bounded by the Philippines in the east, Vietnam in the west, and Malaysia and Brunei in the south. To the northeast is the East China Sea between China and Japan. Farther north of that is the Yellow Sea between China and North and South Korea.
Last month, an international incident in that far-off area came to involve the Philippines — a US surveillance aircraft flying over the Yellow Sea allegedly used codes belonging to Philippine aircraft. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said this is a serious security issue as it could entangle the Philippines in the rising tension between China and US.
A report from the South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSSPI) said a US RC-1355 reconnaisance aircraft using a code assigned to the Philippines flew over the Yellow Sea between China and Korea. The detected Philippine code could have made China suspicious as the Philippines does not conduct patrol operations over that area.
The US pilots may have been trying to test China’s reaction, Esperon said as he expressed his concern. “What could happen is it could implicate or incriminate the Philippine side. We simply have to remind our US counterparts of the implications. The Philippines has sent a communication to the US embassy in Manila. This is something that must be discussed. Nonetheless, we hope this could be settled satisfactorily between the parties,” he said.
In a press conference, China’s foreign ministry said, “Since the beginning of this year, US reconaissance aircraft have electronically impersonated civil aircraft of other countries in the South China Sea for more than a hundred times. This threatens the security of China and countries in the region.”
The flights over the Yellow Sea near Korea, like the ones over the East China near Japan, and the South China Sea near the Philippines have long been part of US operations around the world as it asserts freedom of navigation and flight over international waters.
We hope these two nations will be able to carry on without any incident that may lead to a violent confrontation and we hope they do not unduly involve and endanger any other nation like the Philippines which is friend to both sides.