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Aussie Surveillance Planes Keep An Eye On Chinese Island Building

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JP Carroll National Security & Foreign Affairs Reporter
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Australian military surveillance aircrafts (RAAF P-3 Orions) are flying in Chinese-contested areas of the South China Sea. Australia’s Ministry of Defense has confirmed that these flights are to ensure the safety of the area for several countries.

The Chinese Navy has been aggressively constructing and protecting a series of artificial islands in contested waters that are meant to expand China’s sovereign territory.

This military expansion is illegal according to international law, which is why the U.S. has also flown over these islands.

China is the only country building artificial islands in the South China Sea but it isn’t the only one claiming the area. The U.S. has also flown over areas of the South China Sea claimed by Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

Reporting about the islands has been made increasingly difficult by the Chinese Navy. A recent BBC News report demonstrated how the Chinese Navy threatened BBC reporters flying over their artificial islands.

It is unsurprising the Australian Ministry of Defense has opted for this course of action since in recent years the Chinese Navy sped up its construction of artificial islands. Surveillance missions have been conducted for years by the Australian military as part of Operation Gateway.

The Australian Ministry of Defense asserts that the surveillance flights in recent weeks are just a continuation of Operation Gateway’s standard activities. However, just as the Chinese Navy has doubled down on island building, the Australian military has ramped up the frequency of its surveillance flights.

Top Australian military leaders met with senior Chinese officials including China’s top General and had a “direct and blunt” exchange over policy differences earlier this month. In November, Japanese and Australian officials met to discuss how best for their two countries to deal with the emerging threat of an assertive China in the South China Sea. At the talks, Japan’s Defense Minister stated, “I believe that it is important that our two nations and our region come together and send a clear message that such attempts will not be condoned.”

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