World’s and America’s focus has been on North Korea, and rightly so.
Tensions over China's island-building in the South China Sea may have eased in the past year, but Beijing has kept busy.
New satellite imagery shows China has built infrastructure covering 72 acres (28 hectares) in the Spratly and Paracel islands during 2017 to equip its larger outposts to be air and naval bases.
The Washington-based Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative closely tracks developments in the South China Sea, where China and several Asian governments have conflicting territorial claims. It said on Thursday there has been construction of hangars, underground storage, missile shelters, radar arrays and other facilities.
In this video, Defense Updates analyses HOW CHINA HAS USED THE NORTH KOREAN CRISIS TO FURTHER ITS CAUSE IN SOUTH CHINA SEA?
China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the sea have infuriated competing claimants Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines as well as Vietnam.
United States, Japan, Australia and India favor freedom of navigation as it is a very important sea route with 5 trillion $ in trade, half of global merchant shipping and 1/2 of world’s oil shipment pass through it.
The sea also has alleged 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
China embarked on its massive land-reclamation program in early 2014. South China Sea Arbitration, was an arbitration case brought by t Philippines against China
The landmark decision rejected China’s assertion that it enjoys historical rights over a huge area of the South China Sea encompassed by a “nine-dash line.” China had argued that the tribunal had no jurisdiction in the matter and rejected the decision.
Many complex disputes have been resolved with this type of arbitration including maritime boundaries.
China’s outright rejection symbolizes its high handed behavior and utter disregard for international norms.
China has tried to change the territorial status quo gradually, island-by-island instead of trying to capture in one go. For example, China first occupied the Paracel Islands in 1974 and then slowly expanded its presence southward by attacking Vietnam’s islands in the Spratly chain in the 1980s.
This strategy known as salami slicing, aims for slow accumulation of small changes.
The new construction activity comes as China joins what are likely to be protracted negotiations with Southeast Asian nations on a “ ode of conduct” for South China Sea. Tensions with the US on the issue have also eased, despite Washington's criticism of Beijing's conduct.
The construction is the follow-up phase to a campaign of land reclamation that was completed by early 2016 in the Spratlys, an island chain where Malaysia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei also have claims. According to the Pentagon, China has added more than 3,200 acres (1,248 hectares) of land to the seven land features it occupies in the area.
Greg Poling, the initiative's director, said China had seized a diplomatic opening after the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who adopted a conciliatory stance toward Beijing over their territorial dispute. It's also been less of a focus for President Donald Trump's administration, preoccupied by North Korea's nuclear threat and trade disputes with China.
"It's gotten off the front pages, but we shouldn't confuse that with a softening in China's pursuit of its goals. They are continuing all the construction they want,” Poling said.
The most construction has been on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, including hangars alongside its 10,000-foot (3,000-meter) airstrip, underground structures likely intended to house munitions or other materiel, hardened shelters for missile platforms, and communication and radar facilities, the initiative said.
The United States does not claim territory in the South China Sea but has declared it has a national interest in ensuring that the territorial disputes there are resolved peacefully in accordance with international law and that freedom of navigation and overflight are guaranteed. China has opposed what it calls US meddling in an Asian dispute.
It is the greatest of irony that even a communist nation Vietnam has sought support from capitalist America to counter belligerence and aggression from China which is a communist nation.
Chinese recent activities have been such. China is embroiled in disputes on multiple fronts, latest being with India on Doklam plateau.
America under Trump had already stepped up the game with increase in frequency of Freedom of Navigation Operations as well as initiating investigation in illegal trade practices of China. It remains to be seen how U.S can respond to China and North Korea at the same time.
Audio by Scott Leffler — scottleffler.com