The South China Sea has been a major point of contention in the Asia Pacific with China at the center of the dispute. Consequently, as Beijing tries to push for its territorial ambitions in the region, more countries are going against it including the United States.
China maintains that it has rights over the South China Sea in relation to history. Such claims goes against nations surrounding the region as they argue over their individual sovereignty in the region. This has led to tensions with the Philippines filing a case at the international court at The Hague. China, however, says that it will not honor such arbitration and urged the matter settled between the concerned parties.
Nonetheless, even with the warnings and condemnation from other world powers, China continues to lay the groundwork of its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea. In 2015, the United States called out Beijing to stop its artificial island-building in the region, as reported by Global Security. Up to the recent weeks, the United States has continued to challenge Beijing’s claims. It deployed fighter planes and warships near the islands in an effort to deter Chinese aggression.
The United States maintained that it will not end its military patrol missions over the disputed region. Several analysts said before that China’s ambitions in the South China Sea are a threat to the interests of the US especially since the region is also linked to many of its allies. China, however, expressed its opposition against such intervention.
“The Chinese navy has closely monitored the provocative actions of the United States and issued several warnings, while exercising enormous restraint in the interests of safeguarding the overall situation in bilateral relations,” declared Wu Shengli, commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy via the defense ministry’s website in November, 2015.
“If the United States carries out repeated provocations despite China’s opposition, we have the ability to defend our national sovereignty and security.”
Throughout the months that follow, nations like the Philippines, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia among others have started their own efforts and military drills as a show of might against increasing Chinese activities in the region. The Chinese coast guard has been accused of navigating in waters not belonging to China. It has also switched on a lighthouse in the region which many took as another aggressive step.
According to the South China Morning Post, the South China is turning out to be a point where nations butt heads over security, energy and trade. Even with the constant warnings, China firmly believes that the region belongs to them.
“The South China Sea islands are China’s territory,” said Foreign Minister Wang Yi ASEAN during Regional Forum in August. Other nations continue to reject such claims.
According to the report: “China has every right to peaceably pursue what it considers its legitimate claims in the area. Still its challenge of the existing status quo is of considerable interest to others — even those without territorial claims in the South China Sea and who view their energy security and geopolitical interests aligned to continuing freedom of navigation in those sea-lanes.”
South China Sea sees trillions worth of trade annually. According to political analysts, anyone who becomes the new power over it can also change the tides across the globe.
“In my opinion China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea,” said Admiral Harry Harris, head of the US Pacific Command during his speech before the US Senate Armed Services Committee.
“You’d have to believe in a flat Earth to believe otherwise.”