Surge in South China Sea Naval Exercises in 2018 Vexes Beijing


A surge in naval maneuvers in the South China Sea by Western allies this year is keeping China from any further expansion into the contested waters, analysts say.

Vessels from Australia, France, Japan and the United States have sent ships to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea in 2018. They believe the sea rich in fisheries and fossil fuel reserves to be an international waterway, but China claims about 90 percent of it and has militarized several key islets.

The foreign military exercises, naval ship passages and ports of call, along with one U.S. B-52 flyby have effectively stopped China from pushing ahead with expansion that’s also opposed by five other maritime claimants in Asia, experts believe.

“You take a realist perspective of power, and it’s a way of ensuring the South China Sea is permanently contested,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“So, the Chinese will issue angry statements and so on, warning of consequences, but the fact that all these multinational navies keep doing it in spite of Chinese warnings, it defies Beijing,” he said.

Year of military exercises

The number of hours of that navy ships have spent in the South China Sea has hit a high this year, said Carl Thayer, Asia-specialized emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

The U.S. Navy has sailed naval vessels into the South China Sea eight times over the past 18 months and flew two B-52 bombers over it last month. This month the United States and the Philippines kicked off their own joint naval exercises to train Manila’s navy.

Australia passed three ships though the sea in April en route to a goodwill visit to Vietnam, and Japan anticipates sending an Izumo-class helicopter carrier through the sea again this year as it did in 2017. Last year military officers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc boarded the Izumo.