Last month, China caused alarm by establishing new administrative districts for the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos and naming 80 islands and other geographical features in the sea and claiming sovereignty over underwater features along the way. China’s announcements drew quick rebukes from other nations with claims in the sea, including Vietnam and the Philippines. Those countries and many others have railed against China’s expansive claims to nearly the entire sea, which Beijing justifies with its dubious “nine-dash line.”
The Philippines won a case in an international tribunal against China’s claims in July 2016.
The moves have prompted the US to move in their guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month warned Southeast Asian foreign ministers that China has moved to take advantage of coronavirus distraction with its “unilateral announcement of administrative districts over disputed islands and maritime areas in the South China Sea.”
Tensions escalated with a war of words between each Government.
Satellite pictures show substantial infrastructure on the “Big Three” reefs of Subi, Mischief, and Fiery Cross.
In building these artificial islands, China has been accused of flouting the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Central to the dispute are nations’ rival claims to ownership of the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos.
Whichever country owns these islands can lay claim to the waters and oil-rich resources around them.
China has transformed the disputed tidal reefs into a military zone.