The long dispute over the strategic waterways of the South China Sea has gotten a little tense the last few days, pitting a powerful China against its smaller and militarily weaker neighbors who all want part of a string of isles, coral reefs and lagoons known as the Spratly and the Paracel islands. Out of all these little lands, only about 45 of them are occupied. But there’s a reason why they all want it, the area is the third-busiest global shipping lane, rich in fish and potentially gas and oil reserves, but it has increased tensions between many nations.
Here are some of the things that have happened the last few days:
China’s Construction Captured on Satellite
A series of high-resolution satellite images, the latest of which were taken two and three months ago, show that China has sped up the construction of artificial islands by taking sand from submerged coral reefs and building up land mass, sometimes doubling or tripling the size of existing features. The nation is working on the reconstruction of a dozen. The work on Fiery Cross Reef has attracted most attention because of the little time they took to make advancement. According to the images, the new island is already big enough for a 3,000-meter runway able to accommodate big military planes.
The Subi Reef is also getting a runway, and the Mischief Reef could be getting another one soon, according to analysts.
Looking To Take Control?
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, Adm. Samuel Locklear, says the fast construction provides ability for the world’s most populous country to base and resupply ships and keep control of the area in dispute.
China could also end up setting long-range radars and advanced missile systems to protect the area from air attacks. The set up would require international flights and all foreign aircraft to identify themselves and follow the instructions.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei has another version, he says the work is largely to improve living conditions for people in the area and help with weather forecasting and search and rescue work.
Even though China says all ships are free to navigate there, their actions sometimes say other things, especially when foreign military is around.
International Community Is Watching
The leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations issued a statement that condemned Beijing. This association has the Philippines and Vietnam, the most vocal critics of China. After a summit hosted by Malaysia, ASEAN said that China’s landfill work “eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.” It said members instructed their foreign ministers to “urgently address this matter constructively.”
However, Malaysia did make it clear that ASEAN would avoid confrontation, after one of their critics, the Philippines, told the group to “stand up” to China and stop what they’re doing over in the land. China responded by saying it was “severely concerned” over the statement. Spokesman Hong Lei said that the work is all legal and that no one should be doubting it.
Accusations From The Philippines
The Philippines says China’s military harassed some of their people near the area, most fishermen. They also say they harassed a reconnaissance plane. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, says the Chinese radioed the Philippine pilot near Subi reef, saying, “‘ You’re entering Chinese territory, leave,'” and flashed powerful lights at the plane.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the nation had illegally flown over their waters in the past and that their forces gave them a warning. He denied that any lights were used.
U.S and Philippines Military Drills
More than 11,500 American and Filipino troops held their largest exercises near the South China Sea. Their simulation was pretending to attack the island in order to retake it. The drills were done in Zambales province, which includes Scarborough Shoal, a place that was taken by China three years ago.