Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea


BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts in the region.

Southeast Asian leaders have pressed their call for self-restraint in the South China Sea as chief claimant China feuds with the U.S. over trade and territorial disputes flare anew between Beijing and the Philippines.

The long-raging territorial conflicts and the protracted dispute between China and the U.S. were high on the agenda in the final of two days of meetings of leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Countries in the region rely heavily on trade, and tariff and technology spats between the world’s two largest economies weigh heavily on their prospects.

Host Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha opened the summit with a call for regional unity and a push for the bloc to conclude a massive free trade pact with China and five other Asia-Pacific nations to cushion any impact from America’s trade conflicts with China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has said he would raise the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea following the June 9 ramming of an anchored Philippine boat by a larger Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed Reed Bank.

The incident sparked an outcry and condemnations in the Philippines after the Chinese crew sailed away while the fishing boat sank at night. Its Filipino crew was rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

The Philippines’ top diplomat says he has filed a diplomatic protest after an anchored fishing boat was hit by a suspected Chinese vessel which then abandoned the 22 Filipino fishermen as the boat sank in the disputed South China Sea.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said he filed the protest Wednesday, drawing a non-comital response from Beijing.

Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called on President Rodrigo Duterte to recall the Philippine ambassador and consuls in China to pressure Beijing to identify and punish the crewmen allegedly involved in the incident.

China condemned the incident but did not immediately confirm or deny that a Chinese vessel was involved.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the incident “should be condemned” wherever the vessel came from.

Citing information provided by the Philippines, Geng described the sinking as “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and criticized assumptions made about it.

“It is irresponsible to resort to the media to hype and politicize the incident without verification,” he said, adding a Chinese investigation was underway in coordination with Philippine authorities.

China has flown at least four of its advanced J-10 fighter jets to disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea as part of what appears to be a new deployment.

Images obtained by CNN appeared to show the planes parked beside their hangers at Woody, the largest island in the Paracel group that China seized from Vietnam in 1974. China calls the island Yongxingdao and Vietnam Phu Lam Island.

It said the presence of the planes in open sight might have been intended to send a message to the U.S. ahead of an expected meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka later this week.

China has sought to press home its determination to defend its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea in the face of challenges by the U.S. and its allies. The U.S. Navy and others have repeatedly sailed their ships close to Chinese occupied islands to assert what they claim are freedom of navigation rights, drawing angry responses from Beijing.

China has placed advanced weapons systems on several disputed features in the region, including on seven islands it built by piling sand and concrete on top of coral atolls. Some of those are now equipped with airstrips, radar and missile stations, expanding China’s ability to monitor and potentially control activity by other militaries in the region.

Encounters have so far been peaceful, but all sides have warned against miscalculations or dangerous maneuverings.

Associated Press researcher Liu Zheng in Beijing and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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