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Chinese jet pilot orders US plane to divert ‘or be intercepted’

Chinese state-run media has broadcast an ominous warning allegedly issued by a fighter jet to a US plane in disputed waters near the Taiwan Strait.

In barely comprehensible English, an ‘airman’ says over the radio: ‘This is China Naval Air Force on guard. You are approaching Chinese air domain, change your course immediately or you will be intercepted.’

The pro-Beijing tabloid The People’s Daily tweeted that the audio clip was recorded on July 23 when ‘a US military plane was driven away by a Chinese jet.’

The claim is highly dubious, particularly given that it purports to ‘show’ the incident, but the footage used alongside the audio clip appears to be stock.

Beijing’s propaganda machine has ratcheted up attacks on Washington in recent weeks amid increased tensions with the US and her allies over the disputed South China Sea. 

Last week US and Australian diplomats pledged to renew and strengthen a united front against China and what they termed Beijing’s malign behavior throughout the region and beyond.

The two sides – represented by U.S. Secretary of Mike Pompeo, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds – on Tuesday accused China of violating international norms in the South China Sea and vowed to uphold freedom of navigation and the rule of the law as well as democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.

Pompeo said the U.S. and Australia face ‘immediate crises’ that must be dealt with simultaneously.

Those include the coronavirus and ‘Chinese communist party ambitions,’ particularly its ‘malign activity in the Indo-Pacific region and indeed all around the world.’

On Friday, Chinese and Australian diplomats sparred on Twitter over Beijing’s actions after Canberra endorsed an earlier US statement that it would recognise virtually none of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Australia recently filed a memorandum with the United Nations saying the claims were ‘without legal basis,’ plunging Canberra into the controversy that has drawn angry responses from Beijing.

Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell tweeted Thursday that he told India’s Minister of External Affairs that China’s moves were ‘destabilizing and could provoke escalation.’

Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong responded Friday by accusing O’Farrell of ‘disregarding facts,’ writing: ‘It’s clear who safeguard peace&stability & destabilize&provoke escalations in the region.’

O’Farrell shot back saying China should follow a 2016 international tribunal ruling that rejected most of Beijing’s claims.

China has denounced the ruling as ‘illegal’ and without any ‘binding force.’

O’Farrell’s comments drew strong praise from internet users in India, where the public and politicians have called for a tougher line against China following a bloody clash along their disputed Himalayan border.

China on Thursday said it had carried out aerial drills over the South China Sea. 

The exercises included nighttime takeoffs and landings and simulated long-range attacks, Defense Ministry spokesperson Ren Guoqiang said.

Among the planes were H-6G and H-6K bombers, upgraded versions of aircraft long in use in China’s military, Ren said.

He said the exercises had been previously scheduled and were aimed at boosting pilot abilities to operate under all conditions, regardless of weather or time of day. It wasn’t clear whether live bombs were used.

China has built airstrips on many of its island holdings in the South China Sea, including man-made islands atop coral reefs. It isn’t clear though whether it plans to permanently station aircraft there, where sand and salty air can do serious damage to air frames and sophisticated on-board equipment.

Chinese ships, including the country’s two aircraft carriers, conduct frequent operations in the area, sometimes to trail and occasionally harass ships from other countries. 

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed helplessness in the face of China’s seizure of Philippine-claimed territories in the waters.

In an annual address to the nation last Monday, Duterte said he ‘cannot do anything’ to counter those actions in the face of China’s overwhelming military superiority.

China has effectively taken possession of territories the Philippines claims and Manila’s only option is to seek to cool tensions through dialogue, he said.

Duterte has sought warmer ties with Beijing while downplaying long-standing relations with treaty ally the United States.

However, the Philippines last month renewed its call for compliance with a 4-year-old arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s vast claims in the disputed South China Sea on historical grounds.

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