China has warned Philippine military planes six times to leave disputed areas of the South China Sea and may be “testing the waters” to see if it can establish a no-fly zone in the region, senior Philippine military officials said. “As we were conducting routine maritime air patrols and flying in international airspace, our air force aircraft were challenged over the radio,” Vice Admiral Alexander Lopez told a Senate hearing in Manila on Thursday.
Lopez, commander of the Philippine Western Command, said the pilots ignored the warnings, replying that they are navigating international space.

While Lopez did not provide a timeframe, another senior Philippine air force official who asked to not be identified told Reuters that the six warnings had come in the past three months. That official added that China could be “testing the waters” to see if it can enforce an air exclusion zone above the Spratly archipelago of the South China Sea, where multiple countries have overlapping territorial claims. MORE