Until about a month ago, the perpetual and sometimes dangerous territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea had been relatively quiet.
But that calm has been interrupted as Beijing and its neighbours to the south, specifically Vietnam and the Philippines, are now feuding openly over two separate groups of islands — known in the West as the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
Most of the recent hubbub centres around China’s land-reclamation efforts in the Spratly Islands and the involvement of the U.S. in the dispute. Beijing began reclamation operations on Fiery Cross Reef sometime during the past year, and reports from Washington suggest the project has created about 2,000 acres of new land for an airstrip and other — potentially military — operations (currently, there are four existing airports in the Spratlys, none of which are controlled by Beijing). China, for its part, said last week that its island-building project will be drawing to a close in the “coming days.”