The last time a CNN crew got to fly over the South China Sea with the US Navy was in 2015, when a stern warning was issued by China's military to keep away from what it says is China's territory. On Friday, CNN got another "rare look" at this region, staring down from a US Navy reconnaissance plane onto four contested artificial islands built by China (there's some video here). They also got another warning. "Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding," a voice reprimanded the Navy's P-8A Poseidon, with five more warnings following in short order. The US Navy's response, however, didn't waver.
"I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state," was the US retort. "In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states." The plane had been flying over Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef, and Mischief Reef, where CNN spied multi-story buildings, "large radar installations, power plants, and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft." Many different countries say parts of the South China Sea are their own, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, but China's claims have been the most "far-reaching," per CNN. China's sovereignty claims in the region aren't widely accepted, per the Council on Foreign Relations. (Read more China stories.)