The South China Sea has long been a bone of contention between the US and China. The Chinese military recently claimed that it “expelled” a U.S. navy vessel from the South China Sea this week adding to US-China tensions over COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, in the latest incident in the ongoing dispute over the control of the South China Sea (SCS), two United States airforce B-1 Lancer bombers conducted a 32- hour round-trip sortie over the SCS infuriating Beijing.
The latest move by the US follows the earlier naval destroyer, USS Barry, sailing through waters near the Chinese claimed Islands in the Sout China Sea challenging China’s claim to the area.
Using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse, the Chinese are taking bold and provocative actions in the South China Sea and the sea near Taiwan to forward their regional interests, experts talking to the EurAsaian Times have warned.
Following the sortie, the US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement: “This operation demonstrates the US Air Force’s dynamic force employment model in line with the National Defense Strategy’s objectives of strategic predictability with persistent bomber presence, assuring allies and partners.
A week earlier, a B-1 participated with six US Air Force F-16s and 15 Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s for CONUS-based bomber bilateral training near Japan.
The Chinese were quick to slam the American sortie and Naval passage in the South China Sea. ‘’The People’s Liberation Army will remain highly vigilant and keep monitoring foreign navies’ activities in the region,’’ ministry spokesman Senior Colonel Wu Qian said in a news release.
“Reality has proved once again that the US is the biggest facilitator of the militarization of the South China Sea, and is a troublemaker for the region’s peace and stability,” Wu added.
The South China Sea
The South China Sea is a key commercial sea passage connecting Asia with Europe and Africa, and its seabed is rich with natural resources such as oil and gas. A third of global shipping, or a total of US$3.37 trillion of international trade, passes through the SCS.
The Philippines, Vietnam, China, Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia hold different, sometimes overlapping, territorial claims over the sea, based on various accounts of history and geography. China claims more than 80 per cent and uses the ‘nine-dash line” as a geographical marker used to back its claim.
It stretches as far as 2,000km from the Chinese mainland, reaching waters close to Indonesia and Malaysia
On April 25, China established administrative districts on the Paracel Islands and Spratly islands, the site of overlapping ownership claims. Vietnam was quick to respond to the provocative move and demanded Beijing to ‘’abolish its wrongful decisions.
In the same week, A Chinese vessel was caught tailing a Malaysian state oil company drillship, just north of Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone. This drew criticism from the US, but the Chinese foreign ministry accused the Americans of smearing Beijing and said the vessel was conducting normal activities.
In response, the US deployed a ‘’freedom of navigation operation” in the SCS. The Navy also released a statement which said that the US sought to assert the “rights, freedoms and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law.’’
“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose an unprecedented threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight and the right of innocent passage of all ships,” it said
Chinese officials called out US actions in the South China Sea. The PLA accused the United States of “provocative acts” that “seriously violated international law and China’s sovereignty and security interests.” The US action was “also incompatible with the current joint efforts of the international community to fight against the COVID-19,” it said.
Apart from the SCS, another region that has seen an increase in Chinese presence, is Taiwan. China and Taiwan are entangled in a decade-old dispute which sees both countries claiming to be the true representatives of Chinese people.
Taiwanese diplomatic recognition has been dwindling with only 15 countries officially recognizing Taiwan. For Beijing, Taiwan is a no-compromise situation and seek to control the country. In recent weeks, the Chinese have been flexing their muscles to test the defence of its adversaries.
In mid-March, the People’s Liberation Army sent warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait and briefly approached Taiwan. The move, which according to analysts was at least partly to intimidate Taiwan, prompted the country to scramble fighter planes to intercept. The PLA air force also reportedly conducted its first night mission in earlier last month.
China started sending military flotillas past Taiwan and Japan on a semi-regular basis. In Mid April, a six-vessel strike group led by China’s only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, sailed through the Miyako Strait and past Taiwan, under watch by the Taiwanese and Japanese defence forces.
Speaking to Reuters, Lo Chih-cheng, a senior legislator with Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said China was showing that its military capabilities were once again active and had not been affected by the pandemic.
“The other aspect is, of course, to test whether the combat strength of the U.S. military has been reduced due to the impact of the epidemic,” he said.
Another senior Taiwanese official said that the recent Chinese incursions in Taiwan were being carried to boost President Xi Jinping’s image at home. Due to the mismanagement of pandemic, Chinese reputation has taken a hit all over the world and is facing boycotts from many countries sending the Chinese economy and relations with Washington tumbling.
The Sino-American relationship has taken a turn for the worse since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The Trump administration blames the Chinese for the spread of the virus while Beijing denies any wrongdoings.
Experts in conversation with the EurAsian Times have warned that it is not only Taiwan and the South China Sea, but the crisis in North Korea could also be much more serious than you would think. If Kim Jong Un is dead or not in a position to control the country, the world should be ready for an overt or covert battle between the US and China in the region.
With provocative moves in the South China Sea and near Taiwan, Beijing is escalating the ongoing tensions further. For peace and stability to prevail in the region, diplomacy holds the key, not battleships and aircraft. The last thing the world needs right now is an all-out war.