Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) FA-50 Golden Eagle. @KAI

Philippine fighter aircraft flying over Chinese fishing boats “taking shelter from the weather” near a Chinese reef in the South China Sea are inappropriate, and might inflame tensions and risk accidents, Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times has claimed.

However, Philippines has said the so called fishing boats are “trespassing” in seas within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It has been sending light fighters, likely the South Korean-made FA-50s, over “hundreds” of Chinese vessels. The claim has found support from the U.S. and other states with which China is in a dispute over status of Islands in the South China Sea (SCS).

Earlier, it has come to notice that China has armed its fishing fleet with weapons to serve as a forward deployed force to take on small vessels and boats in the SCS.

“Fishing vessels from the Philippines also often take shelter in islands and reefs guarded by the Chinese military. Should China also call them a maritime militia without reason?” a Chinese military experts told the Global Times on Sunday.

The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines said in a statement on March 22 that the reef is a part of China’s Nansha Islands and Chinese fishing vessels have been fishing in its adjacent waters for many years. “It has been a normal practice for Chinese fishing vessels to take shelter under such circumstances. There is no Chinese maritime militia as alleged. Any speculation in such matters helps nothing but causes unnecessary irritation. It is hoped that the situation could be handled in an objective and rational manner,” a statement by the Chinese Embassy read.

Talking about the FA-50 fighter, a variant of the T-50 advanced trainer jet, an expert said it is in the lightest category of fighter jets with limited beyond-visual-range attack capabilities as well as comprehensive combat capabilities.

He added that its aerial capability is inferior to the early versions of the JF-17, a light fighter jet jointly developed by China and Pakistan.

The FA-50 has been used in antiterrorism and rebellion suppression missions many times, demonstrating its ground attack capabilities. For this reason, it remains a big threat to unarmed fishing vessels, according to the expert, noting that even without attacking, low altitude flybys can disrupt fishing and intimidate boat crews.

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