For the past month, U.S. security officials have publicly warned about China’s military expansion into international waters in the South China Sea, as aerial photos show mobile artillery, aircraft runways, and harbors being built on top of submerged reefs in the Spratly Islands.
Last Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter called on the Chinese to stop the militarization process and respect international laws which keep the disputed territory (lying between South Vietnam and the Philippines) independent of sovereign claims.
Over the weekend, Sec. Carter and Sen. John McCain attended the Asia Security Summit in Singapore, at which China was represented by Admiral Sun Jianguo, who said that their claims over the Spratly Islands were based on “indisputable” evidence. Earlier, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that she was, “not aware of the situation”, regarding the Island’s armament.
Sen. McCain (Chairman of the Armed Services Committee) suggested that the U.S. ignore the ’12 mile nautical zone’ around the Islands and send Navy ships and aircraft to monitor China’s military build-up. By staying away, he said the U.S. would essentially allow the Chinese to claim “sovereignty” over the aquatic territory, which serves as a vital trade route between southeast Asian countries and the America’s.
While Chinese military officials have signaled that they won’t declare an Air Defense Identification Zone, which would require foreign aircraft to declare themselves while flying over the Islands, Major General Jin Yinan of China’s National Defense University said, “It’s not a permanent promise.”
Part of the solution to keeping China in check is local enforcement of international law. To that end, Sec. Carter is currently in talks with southeast Asian leaders, including members of the ASEAN alliance (including Indonesia, Phillipines, Thailand, Vietnam), about building up their respective military’s maritime weapons systems.
Last October, the U.S. partially lifted a 30 year embargo on weapons sales to Vietnam, allowing the exportation of “lethal” oceanic security and surveillance defense technology.
According to military officials, no U.S. weapons have yet been transferred to the Vietnamese.
[Reuters] [The Guardian]