China To Conduct ‘Regular Combat Air Patrols’ Over South China Sea
China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has conducted a “combat air patrol” over the South China Sea (SCS), which will become a “regular practice” in the future, a PLAAF spokesperson was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying on 18 July.
The PLAAF recently sent H-6K strategic bombers and other aircraft, including fighters, scouts, and tankers to patrol the islands and reefs in the disputed waters, including Scarborough Shoal, spokesperson Shen Jinke was quoted as saying.
The PLAAF aims to “promote real combat training” over the SCS, improve combat abilities against various security threats and safeguard national sovereignty and security, according to the spokesperson. “To effectively fulfil its mission, the air force will continue to conduct combat patrols on a regular basis in the South China Sea,” said Shen.
While the exact date of the air patrol was not revealed, analysts said the move likely took place after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague ruled on 12 July that Beijing’s claim to ‘historic rights’ within most of the disputed waters has no legal basis: a decision that angered China and sparked fears Beijing may accelerate its effort to establish de facto control over the area through land reclamation and military deployments.
The international tribunal decided on a case brought by the Philippines, which argued that Chinese activity in the region was violating international law. China boycotted the legal proceedings, arguing the panel had “no jurisdiction” and saying it would not abide by the court’s decision. While the ruling is binding, the tribunal has no powers of enforcement.
Shen said that the SCS islands have been “China’s territory since ancient times, and China’s rights and interests in relevant maritime areas should not be infringed upon”. He added that the PLAAF will “firmly defend national sovereignty, security and maritime interests, safeguard regional peace and stability, and cope with various threats and challenges”.
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