The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) will continue to shadow foreign military vessels and intercept aircraft in the South China Sea, according to comments last week by a senior PLAN official.
On the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Chinese National People’s Congress, Wang Weiming, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy, told China’s Xinhua news agency that the PLAN “will intercept any intruding aircraft and follow every military vessel in areas under our responsibility.”
The PLAN’s area of responsibility includes most of the South China Sea, which China claims under its ambiguous nine-dash line claim. That claim was found to not comport with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, by a five-judge tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year.
“Our sailors should stay vigilant and be able to deal with emergencies at all times,” Wang added. Since China began constructing artificial islands in the South China Sea, in the Spratly group, PLAN ships and People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) aircraft have pursued and intercepted U.S. Navy ships and surveillance aircraft in the area.
China has opposed the U.S. Navy’s regular patrols in the South China Sea, which it sees as evidence of Washington pursuing the militarization of the South China Sea. The United States, meanwhile, sees its actions as fully compliant with international law. Without taking any position on the sovereignty of disputed features in the South China Sea, the U.S. seeks to assert freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.
Wang’s comments on aerial interception could presage the declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea by China. Beijing made a similar declaration in November 2013 for the East China Sea, where it disputes territory with Japan.
Apart from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan all claim various features in the South China Sea. Indonesia does not claim any features, but has in recent years seen Chinese fishermen enter its exclusive economic zone, which partially overlaps with China’s nine-dash line demarcated claim in the South China Sea.
Wang additionally addressed the issue of the PLAN’s second aircraft carrier overall and the first aircraft carrier China has manufactured domestically.
According to Xinhua, Wang said the second carrier, which is under construction in Dalian in Liaoning province, is “in good shape.” The new carrier will succeed the PLAN Liaoning, an upgraded Soviet Navy Kuznetsov-class carrier.