South China Sea Watch No. 9

South China Sea Watch No. 9
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

An overview of the past week's key developments in the South China Sea.

China has become the U.S.’s top surveillance target with more than 700 U.S. naval patrols in the South China Sea in 2015 alone, according to China’s National Institute for South China Sea Studies. The state-backed think tank warns that continued targeted operations by U.S. patrols would lead to the militarization of the area and recommends China set up an Air Defense Identification Zone to counter U.S. naval patrols, Bloomberg reports.

Taiwan says it will carry out exercises in the South China Sea to practice search-and-rescue operations. Taiwan describes the drills as “humanitarian,” VOA reports. The drills will take place near Taiping Island, also known as Itu Aba, which is claimed by both Taiwan and China but controlled by Taiwan. Taiwan’s Navy may take part in the drills, according to Taiwan’s Coast Guard. The drills are an effort to ease tensions in the South China Sea, Taiwan claims.

On Nov. 26, the Chinese Navy started a five-day drill in the South China Sea to practice its combat ability, state-run CCTV reports. The drill includes anti-submarine operations and drills for combating terrorists and pirates to protect trading vessels. It is China’s second drill in the area in the past two months. Some consider the drills a sign China is demonstrating sovereignty over the territory, United Daily News reports. Chinese officials said that the two drills were both “annual regular training activities.”

Philippine officials said that President Rodrigo Duterte planned to declare a marine sanctuary and no-fishing zone at a lagoon within the Scarborough Shoal, a reef seized by China in 2012, New York Times reports. The announcement came after a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping ( 習近平) and Duterte. It is unclear whether China supports the plan.

The Philippines also announced that it will build a new port in the South China Sea next year, VOA reports. The new port would vastly improve access to remote islands and other Philippine-claimed islets, reefs and sandbars. The move could provoke other claimant countries, particularly China, analysts said. The group of islets shoals, reefs and cays known together as the Spratly Islands are claimed in whole or part by the Philippines, Brunei, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Indonesia said that it will increase patrols in waters around a group of islands to expel Chinese fishing vessels, VOA reports. While the move may put Jakarta’s ties with China at risk, analysts do not foresee a long-term negative impact for Indonesia.

“Indonesia is an important component of the way China sees the strategic landscape in the Asia-Pacific, particularly as a key state in Southeast Asia, and it would be a boon for China to maintain its relationships with Indonesia on the basis of its wanting to implement things like its maritime silk road and its 'one belt, one road' initiative,” said Natalie Sambhi, a research fellow at the Perth USAsia Centre in Australia.

Editor: Edward White