The South China Sea has been a global hot spot for several years now, as China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines argue over territorial rights in the region. There have been a number of confrontations in the area over the last year, including indirect, nonlethal combat and boats ramming other boats.
China announced Thursday that it was planning to host a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in mid-October, to try and settle some of the issues in the disputed South China Sea.
Of note, the Chinese military began to create artificial islands in the South China Sea to use as military bases in the spring of last year, an action that led to complaints from Washington as well as its neighbors.
More on China summit with ASEAN defense ministers
The informal meeting of regional defense ministers will take place in Beijing on October 15th and 16th. Beijing extended invitations to the defense ministers of all 10 ASEAN members, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian commented at the monthly presser.
Wu noted that Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan is expected to have a “deep exchange of views” with participants.
Military and political analysts highlight that China has made claims that overlap with those of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea. Keep in mind that more than $5 trillion in ship cargo transits the South China Sea region every year.
These aggressive moves by the Chinese to press their sovereignty in the area have raised the ire of its neighbors and led to concerns in the U.S.
Of note, U.S. intelligence sources also point to recent satellite photographs that show China is undertaking preparatory work to build a third military airstrip in the area.
Defense Ministry spokesman Wu refused to answer the question when asked whether China was constructing another airfield, and offered the usual Chinese government line that construction work in the South China Sea was only to meet “necessary defense needs”.
U.S. military pivot to Pacific
As reported by ValueWalk last month, the U.S. plans to move a significant portion of its navy and air force (up to 60%) to the Pacific over the next five years. Current plans include the deployment of an amphibious assault ship, a nuclear attack submarine, two Aegis-capable destroyers and three stealth destroyers, as well as a variety of military aircraft. The U.S. also plans to station close to 386,000 personnel across the Asia-Pacific region to balance out the expansion of the Chinese military in the area. The American military is also working with other nations in the South China Sea area on a series of military drills, upgrading their military and increasing regional cooperation.
The United States has also recently announced a new Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy. Furthermore, maintaining an open South China Sea is a key part of the new U.S. Asia-Pacific naval security strategy. This new Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy is designed to “to safeguard the freedom of the seas; deter conflict and coercion; and promote adherence to international law and standards.”