China is increasingly issuing radio warnings to the Armed Forces of the Philippines operating near the heavily contested and militarized islands in the South China Sea, The Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday.
The warnings are much different from before, as officials believe the radio transmissions are coming directly from China’s artificial islands, where Beijing has recently deployed jamming technology, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, and even heavy bombers.
According to the AP, a new Philippine government report showed that in the second half of 2017, Philippine military aircraft received 46 Chinese radio warnings while on patrol in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands.
The radio warnings were “meant to step up their tactics to our pilots conducting maritime air surveillance in the West Philippine Sea,” the report said, which used the Philippine name for the South China Sea.
Earlier this year, Philippine officials voiced their concern over the aggressive radio communications with Chinese counterparts in Manila, which primarily focused on resolving territorial disputes in the region, according to government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity with the AP because the knowledge they shared was not yet available in the public domain.
The AP says that the threatening Chinese radio messages are a new phenomenon and emerged after China transformed seven disputed reefs into militarized islands, located near Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan (a region that military strategists considered the Powderkeg of Asia).
The report specifies radio communications were being transmitted from Chinese coast guard ships in the last several years but now are relayed from Beijing-held artificial islands, where military-grade communications and surveillance equipment have been installed along with missile defense systems.
“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,” Commander Clay Doss, a public affairs officer for the US 7th Fleet, told the AP.
“These communications do not affect our operations,” he added, noting that when communications with foreign militaries are this absurd, “those issues are addressed by appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”
A Philippine Air Force plane on patrol near the disputed islands received a warning message in Janurary when it was threatened by Chinese forces that it was “endangering the security of the Chinese reef. Leave immediately and keep off to avoid misunderstanding,” according to the Philippine government report.
Chinese forces also said: “Philippine military aircraft, I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences.” The Filipino pilot later “sighted two flare warning signals from the reef,” said the report, which was identified as the Beijing-held island of Gaven Reef.
In another incident, Chinese forces told two Philippine military aircraft carrying the country’s senior defense and military leaders, along with top secuity officials and 40 journlaist, to turn around immediatly to avoid any mishap. The pilots responded by saying they were over Phillipine territory, said the report.
Despite many Chinese warnings threatening the Philipines, Washington has made it clear that it will maintain and increase an active presence in the region.
“International law allows us to operate here, allows us to fly here, allows us to train here, allows us to sail here, and that’s what we’re doing, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Lt. Commander Tim Hawkins told the AP in February.
The Pentagon said: “The United States military has had a lot of experience in the Western Pacific taking down small islands,”Lt. General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, informed reporters in may, adding: “It’s just a fact.”
As China and its militarized islands in the South Sea prepare for a military conflict, we must ask the very simple question: What could possibly go wrong?