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:
US WARSHIPS SAIL THROUGH TAIWAN STRAIT
Taiwan’s defense ministry says a pair of U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, in a move likely to spark protest from Beijing.
The ministry said the ships made the passage on Sunday, sailing from south to north through the waterway that divides the self-governing island from mainland China.
Beijing frequently objects to the movement of foreign military vessels in the strait based on its claim to Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
China has been increasingly willing to protest actions by foreign militaries in areas it considers its home waters or spheres of influence. That especially applies to the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, which China claims almost in its entirety.
Last week, China complained to France about a French warship it said had passed through the Taiwan Strait. The April 7 incident marked a rare case of military friction between the two countries, which have previously held joint search and rescue exercises.
The Taiwan Strait enters the South China Sea at its southern end. Control of both waterbodies is considered a linchpin of Chinese naval strategy.
CHINA, RUSSIA PREPARE FOR JOINT NAVAL EXERCISES
A Russian naval task force has arrived in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao ahead of joint naval exercises this week that reinforce the growing bond between Beijing and Moscow.
During the drills, the sides will practice maneuvering and communicating and, “perform missile launches and deliver artillery fire at sea and air targets as well as practice search and rescue operations,” Russia’s state news agency Tass reported.
The Russian squadron is led by the missile cruiser Varyag and also comprises the large landing ships Oslyabya, Admiral Vinogradov and Admiral Tributs, along with the corvette Sovershenny, salvage tug Igor Belousov and sea tanker Irkut, Tass said.
China has said the exercise will involve a total of 13 surface ships, 2 submarines, 7 fighter jets, 4 helicopters, and a unit of 80 marines. Tass said aircraft from the Chinese naval aviation force would take part, along with diesel electric submarines from both sides.
Bonded by a common rivalry with the U.S., Moscow and Beijing have forged what they describe as a “strategic partnership,” expressing their shared opposition to the “unipolar” world — a term they use to describe perceived U.S. global dominance. Russia has also offered rhetorical support for China’s position on its claims in the South China Sea.
Last September, about 3,200 Chinese troops joined Russia’s largest-ever war games in Siberia, in which nearly 300,000 Russian troops conducted drills.