Provocations and Presence of Pentagon's 'Imperial Navy' Risk War with Russia, China
October 31, 2015
The Independent & Stars and Stripes & The Guardian
US Navy officials scrambled four fighter jets on Tuesday to intercept two Russian TU-142 Bear warplanes flying within one mile of the SS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan -- even though they reportedly posed "no threat." Meanwhile, China has protested that the US Navy's intrusions into the South China Sea risks "a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war."
US Fighter Jets Intercept Russian
Warplanes Near US Aircraft Carrier
Justin Carissimo / The Independent
NEW YORK (October 30, 2015) -- US Navy officials scrambled four fighter jets on Tuesday to intercept two Russian TU-142 Bear warplanes flying within one mile of the SS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan, Stars and Stripes first reported.
Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told Reuters on Thursday afternoon that the incident was considered safe. "There was nothing to indicate they were posing a direct threat," he said. At the time, US Navy officials were carrying out training exercises with South Korean ships.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that the US previously voiced concern over unprofessional conduct by Russian aircraft in recent weeks. "This was a little bit different than that. These are international waters," he said, according to Reuters.
Navy Commander William Marks echoed Mr Earnest's comments during an interview with Fox News. "We would characterize this as still at a safe distance. This kind of interaction is not unprecedented," he said.
Still, the US fighter jets escorted the Russian warplanes from the area.
Russian Aircraft Approach USS Ronald Reagan,
Prompting US Fighter Jet Scramble
Erik Slavin / Stars and Stripes
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan (October 29, 2015) – The USS Ronald Reagan scrambled its fighter jets earlier this week after two Russian naval reconnaissance aircraft flew within one nautical mile of the US aircraft carrier as it sailed in international waters east of the Korean Peninsula, according to 7th Fleet officials.
In the latest in a series of incidents involving Russian aircraft, two Tupolev Tu-142 Bear aircraft flew as low as 500 feet Tuesday morning near the Reagan, which has been conducting scheduled maneuvers with South Korean navy ships. Four F/A-18 Super Hornets took off from the Reagan's flight deck in response to the Russian advance, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Cole said Thursday.
Ronald Reagan monitored the Russian planes while communicating with South Korean and Japanese forces and launched its fighters well before the Russians made their closest approach, Cole said.
US officials attempted to contact the Russian aircraft but received no radio response. A US ship escorting the Ronald Reagan followed the Russian aircraft as they withdrew, Navy officials said. Press officials at the Russian Embassy in Seoul were not immediately available for comment Thursday.
On multiple occasions in the past year, Russian aircraft have tested international boundaries by either violating other countries' airspace or engaging in what Pentagon officials have called "provocative" actions toward US and NATO ships.
In April 2014, a Russian SU-24 fighter jet made 12 "close-range, low-altitude" passes near the USS Donald Cook while the ship was in international waters in the western Black Sea near Romania, the Pentagon has said. Last month, NATO officials said Russian fighters violated Turkish airspace several times.
In September, Japan alleged that Russia violated airspace over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The incidents continue to raise questions about Russian navy aircraft safety practices.
US Navy officials say they have no objection to Russia, or any other nation, flying or sailing wherever international law allows. "We are advocates of any country being able to operate within international norms," Cole said. "We do caveat that with the fact that all of these operations need to be conducted in accordance with the rights and regulations of other countries, and within a safe manner."
The Reagan is essentially a floating airport, complete with an air traffic control center that tracks and communicates with nearby aircraft. When the carrier engages in flight operations, it institutes a carrier control zone, which extends up to 2,500 feet and within a five-mile radius, according to the Navy's flight training instruction carrier procedures.
Navy officials did not discuss Thursday whether the carrier was engaged in flight operations when the Russian aircraft approached.
"Even if we don't have flight operations ongoing, we are still very cognizant of what is going on in the airspace, within a good distance," Cole said.
The lack of communication by the Russian aircraft also conflicted with general aviation practice. Even commercial airports of any significant size generally expect two-way radio contact when aircraft fly as close as the Russians did, according to international aviation guidelines.
This week's incident added to a busy day for the Navy in the Asia-Pacific region. It happened at roughly the same time that the destroyer USS Lassen sailed within a 12-nautical-mile territorial zone claimed by China around Subi Reef in the South China Sea.
The US undertook the "freedom of navigation" operation because it considers those waters international, though China condemned the move as a violation of its "indisputable sovereignty." Though artificially topped with landfill, Subi Reef is thought to be entirely submerged in its natural state, and therefore does not generate territorial waters under international law.
China Warns US It Could Spark War
With 'Provocative Acts' in South China Sea
The Guardian Staff and agencies
(October 29, 2015) -- China's naval commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, issued the warning to his American counterpart Admiral John Richardson during video conference talks on Thursday aimed at defusing tension in the region, according to a Chinese naval statement.
"If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war," the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.
"I hope the US side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and US navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again," Wu said.
The high-level talks followed mounting international alarm in the wake of the decision by Washington to send a US destroyer close to artificial islands built by Beijing in the South China Sea.
According to the Pentagon, however, the hour-long talks had been "productive".
The admirals discussed "freedom of navigation operations, the relationship between the two navies including pending port visits, senior leader engagement and the importance of maintaining an ongoing dialogue", a Pentagon spokesman said.
Navy spokesman Lieutenant Tim Hawkins said the conversation on Thursday had been "professional and productive".
The USS Lassen guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of at least one of the land formations claimed by China in the disputed Spratly Islands chain on Tuesday.
The move prompted the Chinese government to summon the US ambassador in Beijing and denounce what it called a threat to its sovereignty.
The US said after Thursday's talks that the Chinese had expressed no desire to cancel scheduled visits by Chinese ships to a Florida port next week and that an upcoming visit to China by the commander of the US Pacific Command would still take place.
"We look forward to continue this dialogue," an official said.
Wu and Richardson, the US navy operations chief, had agreed to speak again via video conference later this year.
Tensions have mounted since China transformed reefs in the area – also claimed by several neighbouring countries – into small islands capable of supporting military facilities, a move the US says threatens freedom of navigation.
Washington has repeatedly said it does not recognise Chinese claims to territorial waters around the artificial islands and reiterated that it would send more warships to sail close to the controversial islets.
But in a move that is likely to trigger fury in Beijing and reignite tension in the region, an international tribunal ruled on Thursday that it had the power to hear a case brought by the Philippines over the disputed seas.
Manila has insisted the UN convention on the law of the sea, which the Philippines and China have both ratified, should be used to resolve the bitter territorial row over isolated reefs and islets.
China has refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing the Permanent Court of Arbitration – which is more than a century old and based in The Hague – had no jurisdiction over the case.
"Reviewing the claims submitted by the Philippines, the tribunal has rejected the argument" by China that the "dispute is actually about sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and therefore beyond the tribunal's jurisdiction", the court said in a statement.
Instead, the court ruled the case reflects "disputes between the two states concerning the interpretation or application of the convention" - something which falls within its remit.
A senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday that China would neither participate in nor accept the case. Vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin added that the case would not affect China's sovereign claims in the seas.
China insists it has sovereign rights to nearly all of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which about a third of all the world's traded oil passes.
Following a stand-off between Chinese ships and the weak Filipino navy in 2012, China took control of a rich fishing ground called Scarborough Shoal that is within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
China has also undertaken giant reclamation activities, raising fears it will use artificial islands to build new military outposts close to the Philippines and other claimants.
The tribunal – set up in 1899 to resolve international disputes between countries – stressed on Thursday its ruling did not yet go to the heart of the merits of Manila's case, which was first filed in 2013.
A new hearing will now be held behind closed doors in The Hague, and a final ruling is not expected until next year.
The tribunal agreed it would take up seven of the 15 submissions made by Manila, in particular whether Scarborough Shoal and low-tide areas like Mischief Reef can be considered islands, as China contends.
It will also consider whether China has interfered with Philippine fishing activities at Scarborough Shoal.
But it set aside seven more pointed claims, mainly accusing Beijing of acting unlawfully, to be considered at the next hearing on the actual merits of Manila's case.
In a July hearing in the Hague, Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario warned the integrity of UN maritime laws was at stake.
China's behaviour had become increasingly "aggressive" and negotiations had proved futile, del Rosario said.
But the court on Thursday also directed Manila to narrow down the scope of its final request that it should order that "China shall desist from further unlawful claims and activities."
In Washington, a senior US defense official hailed the tribunal's decision as victory for international law.
"We of course welcome the decision of the panel. This demonstrates the relevance of international law to the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea," the defense official said.
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