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 territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.



Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit neighboring Myanmar this week amid efforts to strengthen relations with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Myanmar has also been a reliable backer, along with Laos and Cambodia, of China’s campaign to quash criticism within ASEAN of its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea. Beijing has of late been pushing the organization to approve a code of conduct among nations in the disputed waterway that could seek to forbid military operations in the area by rivals such as the U.S., Australia and Japan.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying announced Friday that Xi would visit Myanmar on Jan. 17-18.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday reaffirmed his country’s sovereignty during a visit to a group of islands at the edge of the South China Sea that China claims as its traditional fishing area.

Widodo, accompanied by top military officials, toured Natuna Islands on a naval ship in a move designed to send a message to Beijing.

“Natuna is part of Indonesia’s territory, there is no question, no doubt,” Widodo said in a speech after the trip. “There is no bargaining for our sovereignty.”

China’s claims to usage rights drew indignation in Indonesia and prompted the military to beef up its forces at the islands. Although China has been making such claims for years, recently dozens of Chinese fishing boats, escorted by its coast guard vessels, were reportedly making more aggressive moves in the area and ignoring Indonesia’s warnings to leave.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, commander of Pacific Air Forces, said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington that the military should rely more on deception and redirecting the enemy’s attention rather than simply the shock and awe of expensive weapons.

“It’s something we’ve done in the past,” Brown told the writers late last month. “What I really believe (is) it’s something we, as a department, probably need to start paying more attention to.”

“We have to look at other ways of how we do things from the capabilities standpoint,” Brown said. “I really believe that (China) will not actually go to war unless they feel confident they can actually win.”

The use of deception and decoys will keep China guessing and could reduce its confidence in its ability to win in a confrontation with the U.S., possibly over Taiwan, Brown said.

Brown also cited electronic warfare as “another way to confuse an adversary.”

“Those kinds of things that may not take as much money, but may have the same effect,” Brown said.