Tensions in South China Sea Set to Rise Further


Ambient tension in the South China Sea is high as Beijing continues to assertively push its claim for sovereignty over 3 million square kilometres, or 90 per cent of the South China Sea. Tension is set to rise further around April-end and early May when the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea delivers its judgment on the case filed by the Philippines in 2013, contesting China’s claim to sovereignty over the Spratlys archipelago.

Matters are complicated by the defence agreement between the Philippines and the US and the grant of five bases by Manila to the US last month. A decision in favour of the Philippines will further isolate China and weaken its claim over the maritime territory. The US has been closely monitoring developments though its actions remain tentative. US intelligence had assessed in February this year that China is capable of providing “basic self-defense at its Spratly Islands outposts” and “has established the necessary infrastructure to project military capabilities in the South China Sea beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts.”

Importantly, the US intelligence assessed that China will not conduct reclamation efforts in the East China Sea. Nonetheless, to show its concern, the US late last month despatched a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier accompanied by four warships to operate in the eastern part of the South China Sea. The floating headquarters of the US 7th Fleet, ‘Blue Ridge’, separately visited the Philippines. Japan too, for the first time in fifteen years, sent two destroyers and a submarine to visit the Philippines and Vietnam.