Screenshot from BBC's video
BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, screenshot from BBC’s video

A BBC reporter along with 2 Filipino pilots and a camera crew has been threatened by Chinese Navy while flying over the West Philippine Sea near the disputed island chains.

BBC reporter Rupert Wingfield-Hayes and his crew took a plane from Palawan to investigate China’s reclamation earlier this month, that resulted in a confrontation with Chinese military.

Under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), China cannot claim reefs and other structures below the sea’s surface as their territory, nor anything that has built on top of them.

A 12 nautical miles border can be claimed at sea and in the air around natural islands, but China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys do not meet that definition. They are not China’s territory and borders cannot be enforced.

But it looks like the Chinese Navy is ignoring the international law as BBC’s plane approached Nanxun Reef, the Chinese Navy accused the tiny private plane of being a military aircraft and warned them.

“Unidentified military aircraft in west of Nanxun Reef, this is the Chinese Navy. You are threatening the security of our station! In order to prevent miscalculation leave this area immediately,” it reportedly said.

The plane moved away to the west but the warning continued over and over in Chinese and English language getting louder and angrily.

As the plane flew towards the Fiery Cross Reef another warning from the radio came alive again as they closed to 20 nautical miles.

Fiery Cross Reef’s 3000m airstrip (under construction) image source: AMTI

“Foreign military aircraft to north-west of Yongshu Island, this is the Chinese Navy, you are threatening the security of our station!”

As the aircraft managed to close in on Mischief (Meiji) Reef further warnings began again but this time the Filipino pilot responded.

Mischief Reef falls within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, lying 129 nautical miles from Palawan. Image source: AMTI
Filipino pilots responding to China’s military saying they are not a military aircraft, screenshot from BBC’s video

“Chinese Navy, this is Philippine civilian aircraft en route to Palawan, carrying civilian passengers. We are not a military aircraft, we are a civilian single-engine aircraft.”

but it made no difference, on and on the warnings continued.

“Foreign military aircraft in north of Meiji Reef, this is the Chinese Navy!”

Japanese officials warns of military purpose in S. China Sea reclamation

A Japanese defense official warned that Beijing has a military purpose in it’s artificial islands in South China Sea, citing that Beijing has a possibility of declaring an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the waters.

“China is building islands in the South China Sea on which to put radars and air defense missiles,” policy adviser to Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, Masanori Nishi, said in an article contributed to Defense News, a U.S. weekly paper.

The initiative “might be for a future ADIZ announcement in the South China Sea,” said Nishi, who took up his current post in October after resigning as vice defense minister.

Meanwhile, the Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration is continuously examining the case between China the Philippines as Manila attempts to have its sovereign right to a maximum 200-mile “exclusive economic zone” from its coast enforced.