US military UUV seized by China
A US military unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) conducting a military survey in South China sea has been seized by China. Seizure of US military property was referred to as "a remarkably brazen violation of international law" by Senator Ben Cardin. The US issued a formal protest and demanded that China return the UUV immediately. The Chinese have reportedly acknowledged but have not responded yet.
The dispute is over territory and sovereignty over ocean areas, particularly along the Paracel and the Spratly island chains. These island chains are claimed by a number of countries in the South China Sea region including China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. The islands lie among the world's busiest shipping lanes have vast mineral resources around them, making them highly strategic assets.
China claims the largest amount of territory and issued maps in 1947, claiming the Paracel and Spratly islands were Chinese territory. Vietnam disputes China's claims stating it has ruled the islands since the 17th century. The Philippines claims the islands citing geographical proximity, while Indonesia claims the Natuna islands. Malaysia and Brunei claim territory in the region citing the EEZ provisions in the UNCLOS.
Construction of artificial islands in the SCS has been going on for decades and was started by the Philippines and Vietnam. China was a late entrant into the island building saga, but with an unprecedented rate of building, has more new islands than other countries built throughout history. All countries have, at some point, stationed military equipment on their islands to symbolize sovereignty.
In 1974 and 1988 China and Vietnam engaged militarily over the Paracel ad Spratly islands, with Vietnam losing over 130 sailors. In 2012 China exacerbated tensions in the region by building the Sansha City in the Paracels to "govern interests in the SCS". In 2015 China began construction of airstrips in the Spratlys, following which the US sailed a guided-missile destroyer into the region.
China has confirmed that the first test-flight by a civilian plane landed on an artificial island built in the Spratly island chain. The move marks a significant escalation in regional tensions, depicting China's aggressive claims over the disputed territory and opens the door for military fights in the region. Vietnam has been the first country to voice its protest over the recent Chinese "incursions".
China has deployed surface-to-air missile launchers on an island in the South China Sea, dramatically upping the stakes in the region's territorial disputes. Satellite images appear to show that two batteries of eight missile launchers and a radar system were deployed at Woody Island in the past week. The Taiwanese Defense Ministry confirmed the developments which raised serious concerns among the ASEAN nations.
China has deployed war planes to the disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea, weeks after it deployed surface to air missiles there. US intelligence services spotted Chinese Shenyang J-11 and Xian JH-7 warplanes in the disputed Paracel Islands chain over the past few days. Woody Island has had an operational airfield since the 1990s but has been upgraded to accommodate the J-11.
Vietnam has asked China to remove an oil rig from disputed waters in the South China Sea. Vietnam's foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said that Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig had been moved by China to an area outside the Gulf of Tonkin on 16 January which was an 'overlapping' territory. However, China said these were "Chinese controlled waters that are completely undisputed."
China once again asserted its claim over the South China Sea (where Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines also have claim) by starting a lighthouse on one of its artificial islands. The 55-metre-high lighthouse on Subi Reef houses technology which can monitor passing ships. China has converted the Subi Reef into an artificial island in the past year despite warnings from the US.
A Chinese military aircraft has for the first time publicly landed at an airport on an island China has built in the disputed South China Sea. The runway on the Fiery Cross Reef is 3,000m long and is one of three China has been building for more than a year. Experts assess that China could base fighter jets there in case of a war.
Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte stated that the South China Sea dispute was not part of the agenda for his bilateral visit to China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised Duterte for bringing the strained Philippines-China ties to "the track of dialogue and co-operation." Looking forward to improve bilateral ties, Wang Yi said "Our arms are open and ready for friendship and cooperation."
A US navy destroyer sailed near islands in the South China Sea claimed by China. The Chinese defence ministry termed the approach as "illegal" and "provocative", saying that the warship had been warned by two Chinese warships. The US move was the most recent attempt to stand by what Washington "sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters".
In August 2016, more than 200 Chinese fishing boats were operating in the contiguous zone around East China Sea's Senkaku islands and 15 Chinese Martime Law Enforcement Force (MLEF) vessels entered Japanese territorial waters around Senkakus. Japan's sovereignty over the Senkakus is often challenged by China. For this reason, Japan perceives India as a crucial partner to prevent China from altering maritime status quo.
China released its first public report on the presence of US military in South China Sea. It was written by the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, an influential think tank. According to its head, Wu Shicun, the essence of US military strategy in Asia-Pacific was to obtain "absolute control" over the sea and that a Trump presidency would mean persistent 'regional hegemony.'
Amidst increasing tensions with USA over South China Sea and Taiwan, the first aircraft carrier battle group of China executed maiden live-fire exercises on a huge scale. Aircraft carrier 'Liaoning' conducted the drills in Bohai Sea; it involved ships, aircrafts, air-to-air, air-to-ship and ship-to-air missiles. According to the navy, the exercise aimed at testing different combinations of ships to optimize the carrier's combat ability.