South China Sea on knife-edge after Chinese fighters swoop low over disputed islands

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The fighters flew low sorties over the disputed region via refuelling with a Su-30MKK Flanker aircraft. The aircraft passed above the Spratly Islands in the disputed maritime region. The Chinese aircraft were loaded with air-to-air missiles and flew a 10-hour mission over the contentious region.

Military observers say the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force was responding to recent naval exercises in the South China Sea by the US and its allies.

The Chinese government declares ownership of vast expanses of the territory within a claim called the nine-dash line.

Much of this area is recognised as international waters and many of the islands have been also be claimed by nearby nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.

To reinforce their claim China has built airstrips on many of the small islands in the region.

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These include man-made islands atop coral reefs.

China’s massive military reinforcement in the area is understood to have been sparked By Beijing eyeing up the rich fishing waters and possible oil and gas reserves.

Beijing has recently ordered drill tests for undersea hydrocarbon reserves.

The news comes as Australia recently filed a memorandum with the United Nations saying China’s claim on the disputed region is “without legal basis”.

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This then provoked a furious response from Beijing.

Australian foreign minister then backed India by suggesting China’s foreign affairs were causing an escalation in the region.

Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong responded Friday by accusing Australian foreign minister Barry O’Farrell of “disregarding facts”.

He tweeted: “It’s clear who safeguard peace and stability and destabilize and provoke escalations in the region.”

However, Mr O’Farrell suggests China step back from its territorial expansion in the South China Sea and follow a 2016 international tribunal that has reject Beijing’s nine-dash line claim.

But, China has denounced the tribunal’s ruling as “illegal” and had no “binding force”.

The US has committed to naval manoeuvres in the South China Sea to check Beijing’s expansionism.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused China of violating international norms in the South China Sea.

The US has vowed to uphold freedom of navigation and in the region.

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