Washington/Beijing: The tensions between the US and China appear to have sharply escalated over the South China Sea. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has stepped up deployments of ships and fighter jets in an attempt to assert its sovereignty claims over the entire South China Sea. Simultaneously, the US has ramped up the activities of the patrol planes in the region and initiated steps for the security of the Southeast Asian nations. Considering the recent events, analysts believe that the possibility of a war between the US and China in the South China Sea has strengthened.
In the last week, China has made significant amendments in its shipping regulations. Accordingly, the stretch of water from China’s Hainan province to the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea was identified as a ‘coastal’ navigational area. After gaining control over the Paracel Islands in 1974, China had determined the navigational area as offshore, an area located at a distance from its coastline. By amending the definition of the navigational area, from offshore to coastal, China has once again sought to enforce its sovereignty claims over the South China Sea. Previously, at the start of April, the Chinese Communist Party had unilaterally renamed geographical features in the region with Chinese names to demonstrate its sole ownership to the contested areas.
After imposing local laws to the region, China has even begun to step up its military deployments in the South China Sea. The country has deployed two advanced destroyers at the Mischief Reef, an artificial island located near the Philippines. At the same time, China was claimed to have begun deployments of the Sukhoi-30MKK fighter jets at the artificial island named Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands region. The country is also said to have sent some of its coastguard ships in the area.
The state-run ‘People’s Daily’ reported that the Southern, Northern and Eastern Theatre Command of the Chinese PLA, had conducted drills with fighter jets, bombers, fuel tankers, patrol aircraft and early warning aircraft in the last two days.
As Chinese activities become more aggressive, even the US has begun to take rapid steps. The US was found to have sharply increased the surveillance and fighter jet operations in the South China Sea. A Chinese think tank informed that the country had carried out 70 operations in the South China Sea region alone. Furthermore, the think tank states that the US was carrying out 2-3 sorties minimum within the Taiwanese airspace.
Also, the US has initiated talks with Southeast Asian nations, which are also a part of the South China Sea region. On Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held telephonic discussions with his counterparts in Singapore and Indonesia, the Department of State informed. During the conversation, Pompeo assured that the US would provide all necessary support for protecting the Southeast Asian nations against the threat from China while criticising its activities. The US State Secretary’s discussions assume significance as claims surface of China pressurising the Southeast Asian countries.