The US administration announced on Thursday that it would continue to patrol waters and skies of the long-disputed South China Sea on which Chinese navy has repeatedly warned a US surveillance plane to leave the airspace over artificial islands that China has been building.
The Chinese navy on Wednesday issued warnings for a US P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft as it was prying over the international waters near China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, according to CNN, which was aboard the US aircraft.
According to the CNN report, the navy operator warned the US pilot eight times to turn away and leave the area, despite the pilot's claim to be flying through international airspace.
Chinese officials did not confirm or deny the report, adding "China has the right to engage in monitoring in the relevant airspace and waters to protect the country's sovereignty and prevent accidents at sea.”
The high-stake rivalry between China and the United States seems to have been increasing as Washington decided to send a littoral combat ship last week to patrol Chinese territorial reclamation in the South China Sea.
The US dispatched a reconnaissance drone and a Seahawk helicopter to patrol the airspace above the South China Sea, while the USS Fort Worth, one of the most modern ships in the US navy, was sent to check the territorial waters around the Spratly islands where China reasserts its continental shelf.
China’s efforts to redefine its territorial waters were increased last year when Beijing commenced to build seven artificial islands near by the Spratly islands where coastal states in the South China Sea severely objected Chinese maritime expansion.
China has long been confronting with its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.
The parties’ overlapping claims on maritime transportation, navigation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already deteriorated the problem as China started to build the artificial island last year.
The US moves to patrol the South China Sea airspace synchronically with territorial waters came as Beijing was preparing to declare an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area.
The US officials and experts see that the Chinese act to declare ADIZ is likely to happen soon above the South China Sea through which China will also be able to control aerial security.
A senior US diplomat for the East Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, told in a media briefing in Washington that the decision of sending US reconnaissance drone was "entirely appropriate" and the US naval forces and military aircraft would "continue to fully exercise" in international waters and airspace in the South China Sea.
"Nobody in their right mind is going to try to stop the US Navy from operating - that would not be a good bet," he said.
"But it’s not enough that a US military plane can overfly international waters, even if there is challenge or hailing query ... We believe that every country and all civilian actors should have unfettered access to international waters and international airspace," US senior diplomat added.
Chinese side is very concerned with the US presence in the South China Sea as the Chinese Foreign Ministry officials reiterated Beijing’s “legitimate” rights of existence to which they believe the US should respect in the region.
"China has the right to engage in monitoring in the relevant airspace and waters to protect the country's sovereignty and prevent accidents at sea," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a regular briefing on Thursday.
"We hope the relevant country can earnestly respect China's sovereignty in the South China Sea," Lei added.
The US officials claim that Chinese military complexes are now under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly island including a 3,000-metre runway and that airborne early warning radars will be operational by the year end.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry visited China last weekend and told Beijing leadership to decrease tension in the South China Sea.
Kerry took a tough stance in Beijing on behalf of the US during a press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and expressed the discontent voiced up by Washington’s allies in the region like Japan and the Philippines on the issue.