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(Opinion) The Costs and Benefits of an 'Accidental' FONOP in the South China Sea

2015-12-23 08:49:58       source:The Diplomat

By Ankit Panda


December 22, 2015


"Late last week, a U.S. B-52 Stratofortress flew within 2 nautical miles of Cuarteron Reef, one of the controversial Spratly Island features where China has constructed artificial islands. The bomber was on a routine mission over the South China Sea, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the flyby near Cuarteron was unintentional. The incident comes more than a month after the United States staged its first freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea by sailing the USS Lassen, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef. Last week's flyby bears similarity to an incident in November involved B-52s in the South China Sea. The Pentagon is reportedly investigating why a B-52 flew so close to Cuarteron Reef—one of the early explanations from the Pentagon is that bad weather contributed to the off-course flight.


China's reaction to the miscalculated U.S. flyby has been unsurprising. Beijing, in a statement released on Saturday, described the incident as a serious military provocation. 'The actions by the U.S. side constitute a serious military provocation and are rendering more complex and even militarising conditions in the South China Sea,' the Chinese defense ministry noted. According to Xinhua, China's state news agency, Chinese military personnel posted on the island 'went on high alert and warned the aircraft to leave.' This behavior suggests that Beijing reacted to the B-52 flyby as they have to recent U.S. military movements near Chinese artificial islands in the Spratlys, including a May flyby of a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft and the Lassen's FONOP near Subi Reef in October. In addition to the public statement on the incident, Beijing filed a diplomatic complaint with the U.S. embassy in Beijing."


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