China deployed an unknown number of more advanced J-11BH/BHS fighter to Woody Island in the South China Sea. The dispatch took place days after an American warship patrolled 12 nautical miles from the disputed region. Based on the timing of the reports, the deployment of the fourth generation fighter aircraft was done separately to the reported realistic confrontation drill over the contested region.
The People’s Liberation Army Air Force deployed swarm of its J-11BH/BHS over the South China Sea in late October, Defense News reported. The report emerged after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sound off a possibility of hot war against China.
According to military experts the fighter jets were deployed to send message to U.S. that China is serious in defending its sovereignty over the islands. “Chinese military aircraft and missile batteries spread throughout the South China Sea serve a number of important functions, all to the disadvantage of the United States and our friends and allies [including Taiwan] who have a stake in freedom of seas, the rule of law and their own territorial claims,” Paul Giarra, president of Global Strategies and Transformation, told Defense News.
Ian Storey, senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, believes that there will be more deployment of this kind as soon as China finished its dredging project in the South China Sea. “As China completes the facilities on its reclaimed features in the Spratlys, including air strips, hangars and fuel storage tanks, it will be able to base, or at least rotate on a regular basis, fighters in the South China Sea,” he told Defense News.
China seemed to be evading discussion of the South China Sea dispute in a diplomatic level. According to a report from Reuters, Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the Asia-pacific Economic Cooperation Group in Manila, Philippines next week. Leader from U.S., Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Canada will be coming.
The Chinese leader however is attending under the impression that the South China Sea is off the agenda. “Everyone knows that APEC is primarily about discussing trade and financial cooperation in the Asia Pacific. As far as I know, at this year’s summit, there are no plans to discuss the South China Sea,” a spokesman for Mr. Jinping was quoted as saying by Reuters.