The latest satellite imagery of the South China Sea clearly shows that the Chinese have stepped up a notch in terms of completing the construction of an artificial island in a bid to gain a stranglehold of the region, a measure that has really annoyed quite a few regional players and has also ruffled a few feathers down in Washington.
For years, China has claimed to have sovereignty over the much-talked region and although the likes of Malaysia, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei have also claimed right over the disputed territory, it is clear that the Chinese are not in any mood to relinquish their stance over the zone.
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The importance of this strategic area cannot be stressed enough considering the fact that each year, approximately $5.3 trillion worth of goods pass through this area which means that any state having prime authority over these water, will be reaping quite a few economic rewards through these passes. Beijing is desperate to gain control over the transit routes that are peppered all over the South China Sea and despite the annoyance of United States over the issue, is not going to dampen down its resolve.
However, the name depicts that the area is the part of China but actually it’s not – at least not according to the United States.
Disputes over China’s territorial claims of the South China Sea
Commander of the US Pacific Command sender effectively conveyed USA’s policy on South China Sea, claiming that the sea is no more China’s than the Gulf of Mexico is Mexico’s.
However, the growing military activity from Beijing shows clearly that it wants the disputed islands such as the Spratly Islands, Pratas Islands and Scarborough Shoal to come under its dominion.
For almost a decade, the White House chose to keep a blind eye on Chinese activity in South China Sea. However, when the regional power struggle resulted in tensions crawling up between Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and China, Barack Obama came out of their slumber and started observing the situation of the region on a regular basis.
With just a few hours left before the Chinese President visits the White House, two Chinese JH-7 fighter jets made an unsafe interception with a US surveillance plane. While US maintains that the RC-135 was conducting routine surveillance in the international airspace before it was intercepted by the Chinese fighter jets, China claims that the surveillance plane was just five hundred feet away from entering restricted. This recent development again shows that while US has chosen not remain a silent observer in this struggle for dominance, China is also not looking to give away at any cost and will continue to show a strong stance on the South China Sea issue.
Recent footage has shown growing Chinese activity on the sea with the engineers building 10,000 feet runways on three islands including Fiery Cross Reed which is something that gives US policymakers a lot of headaches.
The Senate Armed Service Committee testimony on September 17 disclosed the commercial satellite images, which clearly shows construction and militarization and runways building at Spratlys’ Subi Reef and Mischief Reef.
These projects are going to wrap up pretty soon and when they do, they will allow Beijing to expand their law enforcement policies beyond the area with their naval fleet set to charter waters that for now, remain dangerous. The airstrip will allow the military aircrafts to make diversion stops for carried-based aircrafts which will enable sustained air operations in case things go south.
Obama administration to put an end to the China’s sea adventure
The advanced Chinese naval carrier navigating in the region with such backups will make the Beijing’s hegemony possible in this area and will also obscure USA’s agenda in the region which is why the Obama administration has started shuffling quite a bit in a bid to put an end to the Chinese sea adventure.
A lot of issues will be on the table this Friday when Xi Jinping visits Washington and the so called reckless behavior in the South China Sea will be one of the most important topics in discussion along with unrestrained cyberattacks against American strategic and economic assets.
The visit carries a lot of significance for Obama with the country just months away from elections. In his last and second term as the Head of State, Obama will be looking to get the best bargain out for his country in a bid to make a legacy for himself while also letting the Congress know that once he leaves office, he will be transferring executive powers to someone who will be able to carry on with his work. Obama seems eager to cut the right deal with Beijing but has shown in recent interviews that he will not be backing down on a few of the issues that have turned relations with China sour, including the stance over South China Sea which will remain thus regardless of how much the issue is discussed behind closed doors.
China’s building spree in the South China Sea has now gained enough global attention which is why this issue will be at the forefront of discussions. And although this issue has added to the element of distrust, US cannot afford to let this notion destroy what it stands to gain from an amicable resolution of the issue.
It is in USA’s interests to have a stable South China Sea but at the same time, it cannot afford to adopt a coercive approach in order to further its agenda as that will only complicate things and make China further strengthen its resolve to militarize the region and flex its muscles in sea lines that are part of a bigger puzzle that is the Chinese foreign policy.
Moreover, it is time for US to understand the South China Sea for what it actually is – an issue between a few states claiming sovereignty over a region that brings a lot of economic and strategic advantages to all stakeholders.
Being an economic power and on the rise, China cannot afford to pull itself in any conflict which is why the Presidential visit couldn’t have come at a better time. In spite of all the issues, China is one of the biggest economic partners of US which is why it can afford to play its cards at will. However, that in no way means that it will be able to bend US of its own will considering the fact that it is a symbiotic relationship for now with one little conflict potentially bringing down the house of cards.
Despite US not willing to show any leniency towards China’s views on South China Sea, it cannot really force China into rolling back expansion in the region because one way or another, the area brings a lot of advantages to China.
With talks of a probable set of sanctions heading China’s way in retaliation for alleged espionage against American firms, a lot of conclusions can be drawn. However, one important and probably the most probable conclusion would be that Xi’s visit to the States will not be soured by any such announcement as it will simply render the whole visit meaningless and offensive for the guests to say the least.
A reaction will be equal and will have a profound effect on US and its long-term interests in the Far East and Pacific.