The first half of 2014 witnessed a significant increase in aggressive behavior by China as it continues its maritime salami-slicing campaign in the South China Sea. Beijing seeks to change the status quo in the region in order to solidify its sovereignty claims over the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands and their adjacent waters.
In February, China began a large-scale land reclamation project at Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands, which could house a new PLA military airfield to control the region’s strategic sea lanes that traverse the South China Sea. The following month, Chinese authorities began enforcing new fishing regulations that require foreign fishing vessels to obtain prior approval to operate in the 2 million-plus square kilometers of ocean space encompassed by China’s notorious “nine-dash line.”
In May, China stationed a deep sea oil rig (HD 981) 120 nautical miles (nm) off the coast of Vietnam and began drilling for oil in Vietnam’s 200-nm exclusive economic zone. PLA Navy warships and other government patrol ships, as well as a large number of civilian fishing vessels, were deployed with the rig to guard its drilling operations. The following week, China Maritime Safety Administration ships prevented the resupply of 10 Filipino marines stationed on board the BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratlys, even though contingents on board the grounded warship have been routinely resupplied by the Philippines since 1999.