Philippines aircraft to continue flying over disputed South China Sea: President Aquino

An aerial file photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, on May 11, 2015. Philippine military and commercial
An aerial file photo taken though a glass window of a Philippine military plane shows alleged on-going land reclamation by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, on May 11, 2015. Philippine military and commercial aircraft will keep flying over disputed areas in the South China Sea despite Chinese warnings over the airspace, President Benigno Aquino said on Monday, May 25. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - The Philippines will continue to contest China's no-fly zones over a chain of rapidly expanding man-made islands in the South China Sea, President Benigno Aquino said on Monday.

“We will still fly the routes that we fly based on international law and the various agreements and treaties we have entered into through various decades,” Mr Aquino told reporters outside the capital Manila.

But he also expressed confidence that China would exercise restraint, even as it asserts control of airspace over at least seven reefs it occupies in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea.

“We would not want to think that one nation will single us out because it has yet to declare an ADIZ (Air Defence Identification Zone) covering routes that our carriers use,” said Mr Aquino.

He said China should also weigh the ramifications of using force to enforce no-fly zones over the islands it is creating in the Spratlys.

“The disparity of force or available military force between our two countries is very clear. Will they not take that into consideration especially if they want to maintain a positive image with the rest of the world?” he said.

Mr Aquino issued the statement a week after the Chinese military warned at least eight times a P8-A Poseidon surveillance plane the US sent to swoop over China's massive reclamation projects in the South China Sea.

Since April 19 this year, Chinese warships have also been driving away Philippine surveillance planes from flying over a Chinese-held reef that sits just 24km away from a Philippine-held islet.

Vice-Admiral Alexander Lopez, head of the Philippine military’s Western Command, said there have been at least seven such incidents.

The ongoing tussle over airspace comes as the US considers using aircraft and Navy planes to directly contest Chinese territorial claims over nearly all of the South China Sea.

rdancel@sph.com.sg