The Chinese military are challenging “nearly all” Australian air force surveillance patrols flying over the contested South China Sea region.
Australia’s Chief of the Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, told The Sydney Morning Herald that Beijing’s land reclamation and island-building in the sea was resulting in there being a much greater Chinese military presence.
“Because the Chinese have done the reclamation, there is a greater Chinese presence,” said Air Marshal Davies.
The Air Marshal said that “nearly all” of the Australian air force flights are now being challenged via radio. This is something that has not occurred in the past.
The Australian air force has ongoing surveillance flights in the area as part of the ongoing Operation Gateway. According to the Australian government, Operation Gateway “provides maritime surveillance patrols in the North Indian Ocean and South China Sea.” The operation helps uphold the defense relationship between Australia and Malaysia. It is also a part of Australia’s efforts to counter people smuggling in the region.
“What we’re now finding is that there are of course multiple (island) outposts now that are manned (by Chinese military), so wherever we go on our normal Gateway patrol, we now find that there is an increasing number of locations where the challenge would occur,” said Air Marshal Davies.
Beijing claims 90 percent of the resource-rich South China Sea as its own territory, despite it being considered international waters by the rest of the world. The South China Sea is a vital transit route for international shipping.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have contesting claims in the area, but what Beijing is doing, and its military buildup, dwarfs all of their efforts combined.