News that the People’s Republic of China is claiming ownership of and enlarging the size of some disputed islands in the South China Sea, and building air strips to enhance its ability to project its air power in the region, has been met with predictable alarm by a variety of countries in the region and around the world. Most notably so in the Philippines, where part of the PRC’s construction projects is occurring within the Philippines’ internationally recognized Continental Shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone. The PRC is doing this because it sees a strategic opportunity to expand its regional military footprint, and it knows that its actions will not be challenged militarily.
As a rising global power, and being the largest and most important economy and military power in Asia, the PRC has had the luxury of being able to do more or less whatever it wants in the region. And given that the U.S. ‘pivot to Asia’ looks less and less robust by the month (given its ongoing preoccupation with the Middle East), the PRC has achieved a new level of confidence in its own abilities and ambitions in the region. That said, the PRC must still contend with the legal issues associated with its actions.