'Keep out!' China sends 6 warnings to a US Navy plane, but the US didn't back down

  • China sent six warning to a US Navy plane operating in the South China Sea Friday, ordering the American crew to "leave immediately and keep out."
  • The US Navy aircraft stayed the course, insisting that it was within its legal rights.
  • The incident follows a report from the Philippine government revealing that China has been sending out threatening radio queries to foreign ships and planes at an increased frequency.
  • The US Navys' operations in the South China Sea have not been affected.

Chinese forces deployed to the hotly-contested South China Sea ordered a US Navy reconnaissance aircraft to "leave immediately" six times Friday, but the pilot stayed the course, refusing to back down.

A US Navy P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance plane flew past China's garrisons in the Spratly Islands, giving the CNN reporters aboard the aircraft a view of Chinese militarization in the region.

Flying over Chinese strongholds on Mischief Reef, Johnson Reef, Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, CNN spotted "large radar installations, power plants and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft." At one outpost, onboard sensors detected 86 vessels, including a number of Chinese Coast Guard ships, which China has been known to use to strongarm other claimant countries.

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Disputes over islands in the South China Sea
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe high-resolution imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
FIERY CROSS REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 3, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the nearly completed construction within the Fiery Cross Reef located in the South China Sea. Fiery Cross is located in the western part of the Spratly Islands group. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - MARCH 17, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression #2 of 3. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - AUGUST 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Close up image 2 of 2. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - SEPTEMBER 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe high-resolution imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Image progression. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
SUBI REEF, SOUTH CHINA SEA - AUGUST 1, 2015: DigitalGlobe imagery of the Subi Reef in the South China Sea, a part of the Spratly Islands group. Close up image 1 of 2. Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.
Philippine and US Marines aboard riverine patrol boats take position during a beach landing as part of their annual joint naval exercises at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine and US Marines board riverine patrol boats during a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine Marines maneuver during a live fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines annual joint naval exercises facing the South China Sea at a naval training center in San Marcelino, north of Manila on October 9, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
The Philippine Navy's World War II-vintage warship BRP Rajah Humabon is anchored during the navy's founding anniversary celebration at a naval station in Cavite city, west of Manila on May 25, 2015 with buildings along Roxas boulevard in Manila in the background. The Philippine navy is one of the weakest in the region relying mostly on decades-old, surplus US warships, but the Philippine government has been modernising the navy and other branches of the armed forces in the face of China's increasing aggressiveness in trying to claim most of the South China sea. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine Marines take position next to a US Marine assault amphibious vehicles (AAV) during a live-fire exercise as part of the US-Philippines annual joint naval exercises facing the South China Sea at a naval training center in San Marcelino, north of Manila on October 9, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Philippine Marines simulate a beach landing exercise as part of their annual joint naval exercises with the US at a marine base in Ternate, Cavite province, west of Manila on October 8, 2015. The Philippines in late August asked the US to provide military 'assistance' in resupplying and rotating Manila's forces in the South China Sea because they face harassment from regional power China, a military spokesman said . AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
Filipino environmental activists display placards during a rally outside China's consular office in Manila on May 11, 2015, against China's reclamation and construction activities on islands and reefs in the Spratly Group of the South China Sea that are also claimed by the Philippines. The group is accusing China of destroying the fragile ecosystem and livelihood of fishermen during their reclamation project. AFP PHOTO / Jay DIRECTO (Photo credit should read JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images)
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Lt. Lauren Callen, who led the US Navy crew, said that it was "surprising to see airports in the middle of the ocean."

The Chinese stationed in the area were not exactly kind hosts to the uninvited guests.

Warning the aircraft that it was in Chinese territory — an argument an international arbitration tribunal ruled against two years ago — the Chinese military ordered the US Navy plane to "leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding."

A total of six warnings were issued, according to CNN, and the US Navy responded the same every time.

"I am a sovereign immune US naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state," the crew replied, adding, "In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.

Friday's incident comes on the heels of a report by the Philippine government revealing that China has been increasingly threatening foreign ships and planes operating in the South China Sea.

"Leave immediately," Chinese forces in the Spratlys warned a Philippine military aircraft earlier this year, according to the Associated Press. "I am warning you again, leave immediately or you will pay the possible consequences," the Chinese voice said over the radio.

The US Navy has noticed an increase in such queries as well.

"Our ships and aircraft have observed an increase in radio queries that appear to originate from new land-based facilities in the South China Sea," Cmdr. Clay Doss, a representative for the US 7th Fleet, told the AP, adding, "These communications do not affect our operations."

Of greater concern for the US military are recent Chinese deployments of military equipment and weapons systems, such as jamming technology, anti-ship cruise missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. While the US has accused China of "intimidation and coercion" in the disputed waterway, Beijing argues it is the US, not China, that is causing trouble in the region.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to comment on Friday's exchange between the Chinese military and the US Navy.

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