A CNN team aboard the US Navy P-8A plane said it got a rare look on Friday at the Chinese government’s rapidly expanding militarization of the South China Sea as the aircraft flew 16,500 feet past four key artificial islands – Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Mabini (Johnson) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef – in the Spratly chain.
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CNN gets rare look at Chinese militarization of SCS
Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2018 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – A US Navy reconnaissance plane flying over the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea where Beijing has turned low-lying coral reefs into military garrisons got warned six times by the Chinese military to leave “Chinese territory.”

A CNN team aboard the US Navy P-8A plane said it got a rare look on Friday at the Chinese government’s rapidly expanding militarization of the South China Sea as the aircraft flew 16,500 feet past four key artificial islands – Zamora (Subi), Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Mabini (Johnson) Reef and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef – in the Spratly chain. 

CNN said it saw five-story buildings, large radar installations, power plants and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft on the islands.

During the flight, the Navy crew received six separate warnings from the Chinese military, telling them they were inside Chinese territory and urging them to leave.

“Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,” a voice said.

On Subi Reef, the Poseidon’s sensors picked up 86 vessels, including Chinese coast guard ships, moored in a giant lagoon, while on Fiery Cross Reef rows of hangars stood alongside a lengthy runway.

“It was surprising to see airports in the middle of the ocean,” Lt. Lauren Callen, who was leading the air combat crew aboard the Navy flight, told CNN.

Each time the aircraft was challenged by Chinese military, the US Navy crew’s response was the same.

“I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state,” the response said.

“In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.”

China claims almost all of the South China Sea, a key world trade route also believed to contain rich oil and natural gas reserves. To reinforce its sovereignty claim, Beijing has been building islands around reefs and shoals which are then militarized.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei claim overlapping portions of the sea.

SOUTH CHINA SEA SPRATLY ISLAND
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