ABOARD PLANE: Beijing told a Philippine coast guard aircraft to leave “Chinese territory” immediately after it flew over the disputed Spratly islands, in the South China Sea, on Thursday.

Such warnings, from a Chinese coast guard ship, have become an almost daily ritual around one of the world’s most contested archipelagos, where China is one of five countries claiming the strategic islands — or at least some of them — as their own.

“Calling China coast guard vessel. You are transiting inside Philippine territorial sea,” the Philippine pilot radioed back.

“Request identify yourself and state your intention to prevent misunderstanding,” he said.

The plane flew over another hot spot for China-Philippines tensions — the Second Thomas Shoal — where the military grade laser was last month used to target a coast guard crew supporting a military resupply mission.

China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has for years permanently deployed hundreds of coast guard and fishing vessels in disputed areas like the Spratlys, where it has dredged sand to build islands on reefs, and equipped them with missiles and runways.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan also have claims in the Spratlys.

A journalist joined the Philippine flight on Thursday and observed some of those Chinese boats dotted in the waters around Thitu, an island of 400 people occupied by Manila since the 1970s.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2023

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