China Conducting “Air Combat Patrols” Over Contested Sea

In open defiance of last week’s ruling by an international court rejecting its claims to sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, China has announced that it is conducting “air combat patrols” over the contested sea, including Scarborough Shoal, which was the primary focus of the successful legal challenge by the Philippines. On July 18, the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted a People’s Liberation Army Air Force spokesman saying H-6K strategic bombers and other aircraft were patrolling disputed reefs and artificial islands China has built to bolster its now legally discounted territorial claims, IHS Jane’s 360 reported. “To effectively fulfill its mission, the air force will continue to conduct combat patrols on a regular basis in the South China Sea,” despite the Hague’s July 12 ruling,the PLAAF spokesman said. Those patrols could create the potential for tense encounters with the occasional flights US aircraft, including B-52s, conduct in what is considered international airspace. The Xinhua news agency also reported that China’s top Navy officer, Adm. Wu Shengli, told US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson during a visit to Beijing that China would continue its construction of artificial islands, several of which have runways able to handle military aircraft.