Chinese warships and coastguard vessels are in the waters around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. For some analysts, Beijing wants to demonstrate its strength by showing they can land and seize islands in the area. Two US aircraft carriers are currently in the Philippine Sea. Australia is boosting its military budget to meet China’s challenge.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – China began military exercises yesterday around the Paracel islands, South China Sea. The wargames are expected to last until Sunday. Satellite imagery shows that Navy ships and coastguard vessels are involved.
China claims almost 90 per cent of the South China Sea. To this end, it has occupied and militarised a number of coral atolls and reefs, sparking protests from Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Indonesia.
On 27 June, ASEAN[i] leaders distanced themselves from China, reiterating the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
In a clear reference to Chinese actions, they expressed concern about “the land reclamations, recent developments, activities and serious incidents" in the disputed waters.
In its reply, Beijing said it was willing to resume negotiations to define a code of conduct in the South China Sea, but did not indicate any specific date.
However, it is using wargames and military drills to show off its strength to others to assert its sovereignty over the area.
For some analysts, the military drills around the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan, include amphibious landing to show China’s capabilities to seize and control islands in the area.
According to some press reports, the Chinese Navy is planning a second exercise in August near the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan. To boost the defence of these atolls, currently manned by Taiwanese coastguard units, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence sent a detachment of marines.
In a show of support for Taiwan and ASEAN countries involved in territorial disputes with China, the United States has deployed two aircraft carriers with respective combat groups in the Philippine Sea.
The US Navy regularly carries out missions to assert freedom of navigation in the China seas and the Taiwan Strait.
Australia is equally concerned by China’s geopolitical activism in the Indo-Pacific region. In light of the situation, the Australian government announced that it would spend US$ 186 billion on its military in the next decade, a 40 per cent increase over the previous period. This includes the purchase of long-range anti-ship missile systems from the United States.
[i] Association of Southeast Asian Nations.