Military tensions in South China Sea spurring Beijing to strengthen defences in disputed waters, say analysts

Move by US to create maritime alliance will push PLA towards stepping up construction on artificial islands, they say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 11:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 10:18pm

The shoving match between Beijing and Washington in the South China Sea has seen more Asian countries ally with the US, and China could respond by building more facilities on artificial islands it claims, mainland analysts say.

Each side has accused the other of escalating tensions in the region. The US says its patrols near the islands are “freedom of navigation” exercises in line with international law, while China argues American warships are traversing its sovereign space and creating an unnecessary provocation given Beijing has never interfered with ship-borne trade.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said intensified patrols, in addition to the stepped up cooperation between the US and the Philippines, would push Beijing to speed up constructions on its artificial islands in the Spratlys.

The Chinese Navy will also keep conducting regular drills in the South China Sea
Li Jie, military expert

“China will ... further build up its defensive facilities on the [man-made] islands, including land to air, surface to air, air to air and other necessary weapons, based on its schedule,” Li said.

“The Chinese Navy will also keep conducting regular drills in the South China Sea, such as passing through the island chains in the region because the maritime operations between Washington and Manila showed that they are likely to cut off Chinese navy’s way out of the region.”

About 5,000 American troops joined 4,000 Philippine counterparts as well as much smaller contingents from Australia and Japanese for 11 days of drills that wrapped up last week.

It was followed by US Defence Secretary Ash Carter visiting the USS John C. Stennis in the South China Sea on Friday, a move that experts said likely irritated Beijing.

Top Chinese military officer visited troops stationed on disputed islands, Beijing says

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said Carter’s announcement of an enhanced security alliance with the Philippines and its future military aid to other Asian countries had demonstrated the US aimed to contain China by setting up a “maritime military alliance” from the East China Sea to the South China Sea.

“The US’s intervention in the Diaoyu dispute between China and Japan [in late 2013] pushed Beijing to set up its first air defence identification zone in the East China Sea,” Ni said, referring to the islands that Japan also claims and calls the Senkakus.

US reveals joint patrols in South China Sea with Philippines and will keep 300 troops including combat aircraft in region

China has seven reefs in the area that it has reclaimed or is in the process of reclaiming.

“Beijing was very angry after the joint statement by the Group of Seven advanced economies on Monday, which shows the US will even use economic and diplomatic means to exert pressure on China over the South China Sea issue,” Ni said.

Without naming China, G7 foreign ministers meeting in Hiroshima in Japan issued a joint statement last week saying they were “concerned about the situation in the East and South China seas, and emphasised the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes”