SOUTH CHINA SEA tensions between China and other nations in the contested region have continued to escalate in recent years. And now, as US forces aim to thwart Chinese dominance, Beijing has undertaken a “disturbing” plan of action in order to eliminate opposition.
It emerged this week, during an international meeting between delegates from countries competing in the South China Sea, that Chinese officials successfully removed references to the region in a resolution promoting freedom of navigation. As the Sunday Morning Herald reported, the document was changed at the last minute during the summit in Canberra, Australia, signifying China’s determination to gain complete control over contested waters.
Japanese officials had proposed in a first draft of the resolution that freedom of navigation provided nations with crucial access to shipping, also arguing that airspace should remain open.
The document recognised the benefits of “a sea of peace, stability and prosperity” and expressed concerns about “land reclamations, activities and serious incidents in the South China Sea, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions and may undermine peace, security stability in the region”.
The version of the resolution that was finally agreed upon by all parties made no mention of the South China Sea.
One expert described the Chinese demand as “disturbing”, and highlighted that other nation’s compromise to Beijing’s demands sets a worrying precedent.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence program director Michael Shoebridge said: “The gathering of some 350 parliamentarians from across the Asia Pacific at this parliamentary forum should be an opportunity for this international gathering to stand up for international law and oppose those who, through their acts, endanger it and regional security.
“The fact the forum seems instead to have self-censored is disturbing, but it also shows that Xi Jinping’s China is seeking to silence all critical voices in our region who push back against his aggressive use of Chinese power.”
The concessions made by other Asian nations could embolden China to expand its militarisation of key Island chains while also encroaching on other nation’s territory.
Described by many as “island fortresses”, China has engulfed the Spratly Islands with man made island bases, and has been accused of forming them specifically for military purposes.
The moving of its aircraft carriers, airstrips and weapons into the region has earned the cluster of bases the nickname: “The Great Wall of Sand.”
Leaked photographs show that some islands have runways, hangars, control towers, helipads and radomes as well as a series of multistorey buildings that China has built on reefs.
Beijing has also infuriated nations such as Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines by encroaching on the countries’ economic exclusion zones.
Just last week, hostility came as a result of yet another standoff between China and Indonesia, who expressed fury after Chinese fishing vessels entered the country’s economic exclusion zone last week.
Dozens of boats entered the region on the periphery of the Natuna waters, located in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Indonesia, and only departed last Thursday.