According to satellite image report, China has built new shelters and radar facilities for military purposes on the Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands on the disputed the South China Sea. The U.S. think tank has expressed high concern about China’s move, which could raise tension with the U.S and other related states.
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea has been a point of tension, mainly between China and other main Southeast Asian states, and this conflict is highly risky with the potential for military escalation. The background of this dispute started in the 1970s, whereby China competed with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines to claim the ownership of various zones in the South China Sea, most of which possess rich resources, including fishing and natural resources. Nonetheless, on the one hand, the U.S. is concerned about the freedom of navigation, while they support their Southeast Asian partners on the other hand.
The U.S. argues that China is gradually militarizing the South China Sea and it could be used in the future to restrict the free movement of the trade route. In May 2017, a U.S. Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief to demonstrate the freedom of navigation operation, which China regarded as a move to challenge their ownership. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has denied that it has military control over the South China Sea. Instead, from China’s point of view, the infrastructure is being built in order to defend its own territory, rather than being offensive, and it will not constrain the freedom of trade route.
From the Philippines’ perspective, President Rodrigo Duterte is maintaining his “non-combative” stance, despite the fact that the Philippines has claimed the ownership of disputed islands in the South China Sea as he hopes to solve the issue with China through peaceful dialogue. With that said, the warming of relations between China and the Philippines might be because of the huge investment and aid being received Beijing to help with anti-terrorism fight. Moreover, there is no report about other claimants so far.
With that said, China has constructed artificial islands in the South China Sea since the second decade of the 2000s, which is intended to secure its maritime trade sea lanes. However, several years after China converted the reefs to islands it started to equip them with military infrastructures, which raised the tension of all involving states. The U.S., although it is not geographically an Asian country, is concerned about navigating in freely in the future in the South China Sea and the interests of it important partners. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has improved their the relations with China recently by acknowledging China’s contribution on the North Korean nuclear issue, however, the warming up of relations will not slow down China’s military construction in the South China Sea, which may likely to cause a hard reaction from the U.S.
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