Why Asean wants a code of conduct for the skies over the South China Sea

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 8:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 February, 2018, 1:12pm

As Singapore tries to get Asean members to agree this year on a code of conduct to manage unexpected encounters in the skies over the South China Sea, China is planning to step up flight drills in the area.

Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen expressed the hope that Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries could expedite negotiations at a meeting of defence ministers on Wednesday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has meanwhile vowed to build a combat-ready military with more regular land, sea and air drills.

A code of conduct for unexpected encounters on the water in the South China Sea was signed between Asean and Beijing in February last year. A similar code covering airspace could reduce the risk of miscalculation and mishaps, and provide measures for de-escalation should they be needed for air force encounters in the area.

South China Sea code of conduct talks to help stabilise region, says China’s premier

Beijing insists it has sovereignty over almost all the South China Sea but Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taipei and Vietnam also have claims to the waters.

Here are some of China’s major aircraft activities over the South China Sea:

February 2018

The air force said on Wednesday its fighter jets recently flew over the South China Sea. Photos on the People’s Liberation Army Air Force official Weibo page showed Sukhoi Su-35 jets that it said were in the region on “combat patrol”.

It did not say when the exercise took place but said it was part of the air force’s blue-water training.

China has confirmed that it bought 24 of the Su-35 jets from Russia in November 2015. The Su-35 is the latest of Russia’s Flanker series – a fifth-generation combat aircraft designed for ground attack and air defence missions.

Increased military drills suggest mainland China is preparing to strike against Taiwan, experts say

February 2017

A Chinese and a US military plane came “inadvertently” close near the disputed Scarborough Shoal on February 11 last year, in what the US Pacific Command officials described as an “extremely rare” and “unsafe” incident, the Navy Times reported.

The two planes – a US Navy P-3 aircraft and a Chinese KJ-200 airborne early warning aircraft – flew within 305 metres of each other in the general vicinity of the disputed islets.

The report said the US plane altered course to avoid a collision. Meanwhile, an unnamed Chinese defence official was quoted by state-run Global Times as saying that the US plane “approached within close proximity” of the Chinese plane, which was on a routine mission, and that the Chinese pilot took “legal and professional measures” to handle the situation.

April 2001

An intercept of a US EP-3 aircraft by a Chinese fighter jet resulted in a mid-air collision that killed pilot Wang Wei and forced the Americans to make an emergency landing in Hainan province in April 2001.

The crash occurred about 80km (50 miles) southeast of China’s Hainan Island above the South China Sea. The US aircraft, which had taken off from the American air base in Okinawa, Japan, landed on Hainan but the Chinese plane crashed into the sea.

China held the 24 US crew members for 11 days after the collision in a stand-off that caused turmoil in US-China relations. The plane was kept in Hainan for three months until it was sent back to the US base.