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Jul 18, 2020 / 11:41

China deploys fighter jets to South China Sea

China showcases its fighter jets two days after the US rejected Beijing's claims in most of the South China Sea.

China has sent at least eight aircraft to Vietnam’s Hoang Sa (Paracel) archipelago in the South China Sea, two days after the US rejected Beijing’s claims in most of this sea.

The airstrip on Woody island, the largest settlement in the Paracels, whereeight fighter aircraft are clearly visible lined up on the tarmac, July 17, 2020. Photo: Planet Labs Inc.

Evidence from satellite imagery has emerged that China has deployed fighter jets to its key military base on Paracels, foreign media has reported.

Being shown on the runway at Woody island, the jets are believed to be J-11B and J-11Bs that are in service with the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and Naval Aviation Force (PLANAF), RFA reported.

According to Forbes, these are broadly equivalent to the F-15 Eagle used by the US Air Force.

The aircraft were initially spotted by open-source intelligence analysts using low-resolution commercial satellite imagery. Now high-resolution satellite imagery from Airbus confirms the situation, Forbes reported.

The timing of the deployment could relate to a number of external factors. It may related directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement. It is also a day after a US Navy destroyer, the USS Ralph Johnson, performed a freedom of navigation operation in the area and a week after a major international naval exercise involving two US Navy aircraft carriers, Forbes said.

Either way it may be intended to send a message, or even as a hedge against military action, Forbes said, adding that it is also set against a large US-led naval exercise and rising tensions across the region generally.

China occupied Vietnam’s Hoang Sa in a bloody battle in 1974. In recent years, China has beefed up the facilities and has deployed fighters and bombers there previously.

In 2012, China set up administration city of Sansha on Woody island or Phu Lam island in Vietnamese name. Since then, Beijing has boosted activities on the island by holding tours there and calling for investment into the seized islands.

Vietnamese associate professor Vu Thanh Ca, former senior official at Vietnam Administration of Sea and Islands (VASI) attributed China’s intensified activities, including in Paracels to its ambition to legalize its unlawful claims in the South China Sea.

In April 2020, China decided to establish two new administrative districts namely Xisha and Nansha that are under management of Sansha.

Emeritus Professor Carl Thayer at UNSW Canberra said the establishment is a provocation, violating the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DoC) and seriously undermining negotiations among China and ASEAN member states for a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC).