Taiwan invited international journalists to an island in a bid to prove it was habitable, and the Philippines agreed to open up five military bases to station US troops – the first to set up house on the archipelago in almost 25 years.And in what may be the oddest twist, China had a maritime confrontation with Indonesia, one of the few countries in the area with whom it previously had no territorial disputes.
“What we’re seeing here is the emergence of the underlying trends we’re going to see this year,” says Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in a telephone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.
The big events of 2016, says Mr. Poling, will be the ruling of an international tribunal, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, on the Philippines’ territorial dispute with China (which China intends to ignore) and completion of China’s “dual use civilian-military” structures on the Spratly Islands.
All this comes hot on the heels of Chinese installation of sophisticated radar in the Spratly Islands, surface-to-air missiles in the Paracels, and possible land reclamation at Scarborough Shoal, which it seized from the Philippines in 2012.
While Beijing “has been building islands faster than the United States can build coalitions,” the United States has been focused more on diplomacy, firming its ties with ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and seeking to strengthen its long-term military foundation.
“The ultimate Chinese goal in the next few years is less about pushing the US military out of the area (though that is the long-term naval strategy),” says Poling, “but rather about achieving administrative domination of the seas, so other Southeast Asian nations can do little without seeking Chinese permission.”
Full article: China’s hold on South China Sea tightening (The Christian Science Monitor)