Challenging China


By now, Beijing should realize it cannot lay claim to nearly the entire South China Sea without being challenged by other nations whose freedom of navigation is impeded by the structures the Chinese built from the scattered Spratly group of islands.

The latest to join the fray was the Australian air force which sent a surveillance plane in air space over the disputed sea. The Aussie reconnaissance flight ignored repeated warnings from the Chinese navy to stay away. Earlier, US planes also made an over flight in the same area followed by the USS Lassen battleship sailing near the artificial islands China built from the scattered shoals, reefs and protruding rocks. From the air, these fortified islands look like a Chinese necklace marking its nine-dash line territorial claim. Call it a marvel of Chinese engineering which was completed in less than a year. But other nations whose commercial vessels use the vital sea lanes see it as an obstruction to freedom of navigation. Some $5.3 trillion worth of commercial cargo, mostly super tankers carrying crude oil from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca, pass through this major shipping route.

For background: The South China seabed is potentially resource rich—11 billion barrels of oil and 198 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea. Manila has filed a case against Beijing with The Hague international arbitration court contesting China’s encroachment on the West Philippine Sea. It scored an initial victory when The Hague ruled that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), it has jurisdiction to hear the case with or without China’s participation.

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