TEL AVIV – A review of China’s recently updated strict rules for aircraft identification over the South China Sea raises immediate questions about a possible Chinese military response to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight that, according to many reports, was last seen over the disputed waters.
Information indicates it is unlikely the Boeing 777, Flight 370 carrying 239 people, went undetected by China’s military, which is highly active in the South China Sea and has specific new contingencies for unidentified flights.
Reports indicate the airplane was last picked up by civilian radar over the South China Sea flying northeast before disappearing. Investigators have now expanded the search area to over 35,000 square miles, encompassing the South China Sea toward the Indian Ocean.
In November 2013, China faced international condemnation when it imposed its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone over the sea in what was seen as a grab of parts of the waters.
The U.S. responded immediately by flying two B-52 bombers over the airspace unannounced.
China’s Defense Ministry announced last December it had logged almost 800 foreign military aircraft violating its new rules in the first month alone.
Chinese military aircraft are known to be highly active in the South China Sea, with the country saying last December it flew 87 warplanes over the sea on 51 missions that month.
Such military activity makes it unlikely any aircraft could fly over the South China Sea undetected for an extended period of time, as the Malaysia Airlines aircraft reportedly did for possibly hundreds of miles.
China’s new Aircraft Identification Rules, reviewed in full by WND, warn “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures” to any civilian aircraft that violates its guidelines.
Several of the guidelines were clearly not followed by the Malaysia Airlines flight, which was not communicating with air traffic control. The airplane reportedly was also invisible to civilian radar, with Reuters quoting sources stating this suggested someone had turned off the radar transponder.
Rule No. 2 in China’s new South Sea guidelines states airliners “must maintain the two-way radio communications, and respond in a timely and accurate manner to the identification inquiries from the administrative organ of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone or the unit authorized by the organ.”
The third rule stipulates, “Aircraft flying in the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone, if equipped with the secondary radar transponder, should keep the transponder working throughout the entire course.”
U.S. warplanes previously intentionally violated the guidelines, but CNN reported the Obama administration cautioned civilian airliners to abide by China’s new identification rules.
China is not only tightly controlling the airspace over the South China Sea. Just last week it was reported the Chinese military is apprehending foreign vessels weekly in those international waters.
There is a precedent for a country shooting down an unidentified passenger jet and then denying any knowledge of the incident. In 1983, a Soviet military jet infamously downed Korean Air Lines Flight 007 on its way to Seoul from New York City, killing all 269 passengers. Moscow at first denied the incident but later admitted it dispatched a Su-15 interceptor, claiming it believed the passenger plane was a U.S. spy craft.
While some reports question the flight path taken by the missing Malaysia Airlines airplane, Reuters reported military radar indicates the plane took corridors normally employed for routes to the Middle East and Europe, which would take it out of the South China Sea.
However, the same news agency exclusively quoted a senior source inside the probe last week saying they were narrowing the focus of the investigation to the possibility the aircraft disintegrated mid-flight, illustrating the ever-changing theories as the story develops and new information becomes available.
With research by Joshua Klein.