South China Sea tensions hit crisis point as furious Beijing surrounds US vessel in region

The waters have become a hotbed of activity after Beijing’s institution of the nine-dash line which sees its territorial claims invade areas controlled by neighbouring countries such as Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. Both the US and UK have both increased their presence in the region increasing the dispute between Washington and Beijing.

China accused the US of showing its strength in the region after the USS Ronald Reagan carried out drills in the disputed waters.

Soon after entering the region, the ship was surrounded by Chinese vessels according to to satellite images.

Moreover, such was the apparent provocation that Beijing lodged a complaint with Washington.

Speaking on the matter, rear admiral Karl Thomas told The Daily Telegraph: “There is certainly a disagreement in where they think we should sail.”

China has already clashed with Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines over its encroachment into rich fishing grounds and reserves of untapped oil and gas reserves.

Beijing has also been accused of weaponising certain areas with the creation of artificial islands, illustrated by the Fiery Cross Reef.

Off the coast of the Philippines, the area is one of the most heavily fortified by China and now has underground ammunition storage, missile shelters and radar domes.

The Philippines and China both disputed the Scarborough Shoal territory which resulted in a tribunal ruling that the People’s Republic had no historical claim to the land in 2016.

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The move to militarise some of the islands in the area was considered a blatant aggression but China has maintained that the move was “purely defensive”.  

But China military specialist and Georgetown University professor, Oriana Skylar Mastro, stated the move allows Beijing to continue to develop its military operations.

She added: “The problem is that the South China Sea is not theirs to defend.

“It gives them the ability to do persistent operations and have coercive capabilities against their neighbours and their claims of water and airspace.

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“They’re basically putting in military capabilities to be able to control activities in the South China Sea.”

Despite the earlier clashes between the Philippines and China, the former’s President, Rodrigo Duterte has shifted to a more pro-Beijing stance of late.

Both countries have increased the number of joint military exercises that they have conducted and has even stated “China wants to be friends” with the Philippines.

Moreover, Mr Duterte has also welcomed a new wave of Chinese investment amounting to $2billion (£1.5billion) to boost the economy.

According to Ms Mastro, the development of Philippine and Chinese relations has been due to the waning presence of some of the smaller powers in the region.

While once, Washington was a prominent force in the Philippines the US troops have begun to fade away.

Ms Mastro added: “The Trump administration doesn’t seem to care about the South China Sea – he’s never tweeted about it, he hasn’t brought it up with Xi.

“If we’re in a strategic competition, this is the most important area where we ensure we maintain a military advantage.”

The news of the presence of the US ship comes as a Chinese academic warned that conflict was becoming ever closer due to contentious US naval exercises in so-called “grey zones”.

Chen Yong, an assistant research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science stated in an academic paper: “As China’s military might increases, so the US will turn to ever more dangerous grey zone operations.”

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