Philippine fighter aircraft’s flybys over Chinese fishing boats in South China Sea ‘risky’: experts
Published: Mar 29, 2021 01:29 AM
An aerial photo of the South China Sea. File photo: Xinhua

An aerial photo of the South China Sea. File photo: Xinhua

The daily flybys by Philippine fighter aircraft over Chinese fishing boats taking shelter from the weather near a Chinese reef in the South China Sea are inappropriate, and might inflame tensions and risk accidents, Chinese experts said on Sunday.

The Philippine military is sending light fighter aircraft daily to fly over hundreds of Chinese vessels in the South China Sea and monitor the situation, the Philippine Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, said in a statement on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Lorenzana also said that the Philippine military will also beef up its naval presence in the South China Sea to conduct "sovereignty patrols" and "protect Philippine fishermen."

Lorenzana's statement comes after more than 200 boats were recently spotted near the Niu'e Reef in the South China Sea and the Philippines identified them as a Chinese maritime militia.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said in a statement on March 22 that the reef is a part of China's Nansha Islands and Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years.

"It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under such circumstances. There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged. Any speculation in such matters helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation. It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner," according to the Chinese Embassy statement.

A Chinese military experts told the Global Times on Sunday that it is inappropriate to claim they are a Chinese maritime militia because it is normal for fishermen from any country to take shelter in nearby islands and reefs in complicated and changing maritime situations.

Fishing vessels from the Philippines also often take shelter in islands and reefs guarded by the Chinese military, the expert revealed. "Should China also call them a maritime militia without reason?"

The Philippines should act with restraint and not send warplanes or warships to disrupt normal sheltering activities by Chinese fishing vessels, which could stir up tensions between the two countries, the expert said.

The type of fighter aircraft the Philippines deployed is likely to be the FA-50 imported from South Korea, which is a variation of the T-50 advanced trainer jet, the Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Sunday.

Having a certain level of capabilities in both aerial combat and ground attack, the FA-50 can be considered a third generation light fighter jet, said the expert, noting that it is in the lightest category of fighter jets with limited beyond-visual-range attack capabilities as well as comprehensive combat capabilities.

However, its aerial capability is inferior to the early versions of the JF-17, a light fighter jet jointly developed by China and Pakistan, the expert said.

The FA-50 has been used in antiterrorism and rebellion suppression missions many times, demonstrating its ground attack capabilities. For this reason, it remains a big threat to unarmed fishing vessels, according to the expert, noting that even without attacking, low altitude flybys can disrupt fishing and intimidate boat crews.

And ultra-low-level flight maneuvers could also be challenging for the pilots as they risk crashing, the expert warned.