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China demands US aircraft stay away from int’l airspace in intercepted audio

The Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy Type 054A frigate Huanggang. (Photo by the Ministry of Defense of Japan/Released)
July 13, 2022

A Chinese warship was heard on an intercepted radio transmission on Monday demanding a U.S. military aircraft keep its distance as it operated over international airspace near Taiwan.

The intercepted radio transmission was recorded by Robin Hsu, a former Taiwan navy radar operator who now heads a team of open-source intelligence enthusiasts who track military movements around Taiwan. Hsu provided a copy of the recording to Newsweek on Wednesday.

Hsu said he intercepted a Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) broadcast while turning into air traffic airwaves at around 1:30 p.m. local time on Monday. As he turned in, Hsu heard a broadcast from the Chinese Type 054A frigate Huanggang (Pennant number 577). The Chinese warship issued a warning signal to an unidentified U.S. aircraft flying nearby.

“U.S. aircraft, this is Chinese navy warship 577. Keep a safe distance and safe altitude from me,” the warship’s radio operator said. 

The Huanggang is assigned to PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, whose area of responsibility includes Taiwan and the East China Sea.

While China considers Taiwan a part of its territory, the island governs itself as an independent nation. China has attempted to assert maritime territorial claims in the airspace and waterways throughout Taiwan and the South China Sea, though the U.S. routinely flies military aircraft and sails warships throughout these areas.

This radio exchange is just the latest example of Chinese forces demanding U.S. forces stay out of international airspace and waterways that are, by international law, accessible to all nations. In June, Chinese authorities reportedly said the Taiwan Strait is a part of its exclusive economic zone and demanded the U.S. Navy stay out.

Hsu captured another recording on Tuesday in which the Taiwanese Air Force was heard attempting to order Chinese aircraft to leave the Taiwanese Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) — an area of international air space that Taiwan monitors for approaching foreign aircraft.

“This is the Republic of China Air Force,” the Taiwanese radio operator said, referring to the formal name for the Taiwanese government. “Attention, PLA military aircraft southwest of Taiwan, altitude 3,000 meters. You have entered our airspace and are affecting aviation safety. Depart immediately.”

Ministry of National Defense for the Republic of China (Taiwan) later shared a report, identifying the Chinese PLA aircraft as a pair of J-16 fighter jets, and two different Y-8 aircraft variants — an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) Y-8 and an electronic warfare (EW) Y-8.

On Wednesday, the PLA claimed it chased off a U.S. warship operating near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. The U.S. Navy disputed the Chinese characterization of their interaction and said the U.S. “is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.”