South China Sea threat: US intervenes in region over Beijing’s ‘provocative’ actions



WASHINGTON wants to strengthen ties with its Southeast Asian allies amid growing tensions with Beijing over their actions in the South China Sea.

David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee White House was committed to its efforts throughout the region. He said: “In Southeast Asia, there is great potential to further expand cooperation with treaty allies Thailand and the Philippines, and with important partners such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore.”

Mr Stilwell said the US was also working closely with treaty allies Japan, Australia and South Korea, which also have their own Indo-Pacific strategies.

He stressed Washington had deep concerns about China’s “provocative” actions against oil and gas activities in the disputed South China Sea.

He said: “These actions undermine peace and stability in the region, and call into question Beijing’s commitment to the peaceful solution of maritime disputes.”

Mr Stilwell said Chinese vessels were still carrying out surveys escorted by the navy and coastguard in the South China Sea to intimidate Vietnam.

His evidence to the committee came after a US think-tank warned China was building new military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, part of Washington’s Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said new satellite images revealed missile shelters and radar and communications facilities were under construction on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

Washington has criticised China’s build-up of military facilities on the artificial islands and fears they could be used to restrict free movement along the important South China Sea trade route.

A US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef last month in a so-called freedom of navigation operation.

Beijing and Washington are often at loggerheads over the presence of US vessels in the disputed territory.

The US insists it has the right to sail in South China Sea waters under freedom of navigation protocols.

China accuses the US of intimidation and being deliberately provocative and rejects allegations it is militarising the sea, which also is claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The new report said China had built four new missile shelters on Fiery Cross Reef to go with the eight already on the artificial island.

A large antennae array is being installed on Mischief Reef which analysts believe will boost Beijing’s ability to monitor the surroundings.

A large dome recently was installed on Fiery Cross and another is under construction, indicating a sizeable communications or radar system. Two more domes are under construction at Mischief Reef.

The think-tank report said: “Beijing can now deploy military assets, including combat aircraft and mobile missile launchers, to the Spratly Islands at any time.”