Well, it was hardly surprising when the news came out: Beijing has based – permanently, perhaps – offensive weapons on the artificial islands it has painstakingly constructed in the South China Sea. These deployments cap a series of deceptions, increasingly belligerent military actions, and various illegal activities that have surrounded Chinese goings-on in the region for nearly a decade.
In 2015, Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised not to militarize the islands that his country was – contrary to international law – building in the Spratly Islands. The Spratlys are a chain of mostly coral reefs in the eastern South China Sea that barely break the ocean’s surface, but they are adjacent both to major sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) and to potentially lucrative maritime natural resources, such as fisheries and oil and gas deposits.
Consequently, several countries in addition to China – including Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have laid claim to various parts of the Spratlys, and nearly all have attempted to enforce these claims by establishing garrisons and other structures on the islands.