South China Sea Update: 24 March, 2023

We’re seeing an active end of the week around the world. Tit-for-tat exchange between US forces and Iranian proxies in Syria, the worsening condition of Deutsche Bank and Taiwan has lost a diplomatic ally to China days before Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen heads to Central America and the US. On Sunday one or two of these topics will be looked at briefly.

For today, the South China Sea beckons. On Thursday, China’s Southern Theater Command released a statement claiming that the Chinese military had driven a US Navy destroyer away from operating in close proximity to the disputed Paracel Islands. The US 7th Fleet labeled the claim as ‘false.’ According to a fleet spokesperson, “USS Milius (DDG 69) is conducting routine Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea and was not expelled.” It was not revealed how close Milius was to the Parcels.

China claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea, though the United States and nations in the region do not recognize the claims. The latest revision to the claims by the Chinese government states that China has the right to enclose the waters around four Chinese-occupied island groups with straight baselines, extending the territorial reach beyond the 12 mile limit recognized by the  United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This goes beyond the historical ‘Nine-Dash-Line’ claim to China’s ownership in the South China Sea (SCS).

Territorial disputes in the SCS are common with multiple nations laying claim to the same reefs and islands in resource rich areas of the sea. In fact, talks are underway at present between Chinese and Philippine officials over the territorial disputes between the two nations. China’s growing aggressiveness and alleged incursions have led to these talks. In February a Philippine coast guard vessel was hit by green laser beams coming from a Chinese coast guard ship.

From Beijing’s point of view, China has become the dominant force in the SCS. The lack of pushback by the United States in earlier years as China constructed new military installations in the waters has unfortunately served to embolden China’s assertiveness in recent years. Now, as the US is growing more focused on containing and pushing back Chinese moves across the Western Pacific, Washington is realizing it is at a significant disadvantage in the SCS as the current situation stands.


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