Anxiety over power play in South China Sea


Protesters holding placards shout anti-China slogans during a rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Manila on June 4, 2015. AFP FILE PHOTO

Avoiding conflict in the disputed South China Sea – where China has in recent days conducted three test flights on a newly built airstrip on a reef it reinforced recently – is becoming an increasingly acute diplomatic challenge, analysts say.

There are rising worries over the possibility of an incident flaring up into a conflict.

An added element to the high-decibel claims and counterclaims is Vietnam’s vigorous military acquisition and modernization program, which includes the purchase of six submarines.

Vietnam on Tuesday protested against the first Chinese test flight, which took place last Saturday. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hai Binh said the move “seriously violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Truong Sa archipelago”.

Vietnam refers to the Spratly Islands as Truong Sa.

Hanoi maintains that the 3,000m-long airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef, which allows for bigger and heavier planes to land, is illegal. It has demanded that China “immediately stop and not repeat” similar flights in future. But Beijing rejected the protest and later sent two more planes to land on the airstrip, prompting another Vietnamese protest. Mr Le asked China “to immediately end similar acts… that expand and complicate disputes”.

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