As Kim Jong-Un continues to defy sanctions and increase the already bow-tight tensions, China is sneaking around the South Sea with very little notice. While Kim Jong-Un tests his missiles and the global attention is focused squarely on the chubby dictator, China has their eyes on disputed territory in the South Sea.
According to Bloomberg, last month, a Philippine lawmaker released photos he said showed Chinese fishing, coast guard, and navy vessels surrounding a Philippine-occupied isle in the Spratly island chain. The Chinese vessels successfully prevented the Phillippines from making planned repairs to a runway. In July, Vietnam halted drilling in an area leased to Spain’s Repsol S.A, amid reports it did so under Chinese “duress.”
The move suggests that the Chinese have seized the opportunity to take advantage of the world’s eyes being on the North Korean regime and the increasing tensions between it and the United States. However, as of right now, the US is still doing what it calls “freedom of navigation” naval operations in the South China Sea, testing China’s claims to exclusive access and there are plans to conduct two to three more such maneuvers in the next few months, according to the Wall Street Journal.
With the US zeroed in on North Korea, experts are speculating that China will seek to expand their role in the disputed South Sea, leaving many countries unable to challenge the Chinese. “China knows that Trump is very focused on North Korea, and not too worried about Southeast Asia,” said Jay L. Batongbacal, director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea at the University of the Philippines. “There is a willingness on their part to push things as far as they can.”
Vietnam doesn’t want the US to pull back either because once they do, it’ll be difficult for the Vietnamese to stand firm against the money and power of the Chinese. “We are watching them with worry,” said Tran Viet Thai, a deputy director general at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam in Hanoi, where the country’s diplomats are trained. “We want to see the positive contribution of the US to regional stability and international security.”
China’s focus is on pushing joint exploration that ties economic fortunes together and takes the focus off strategic ambitions. Standing alongside Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in Manila in July, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said joint exploration was an idea “full of political wisdom.”
According to a 2013 estimate by the US Energy Information Administration, the South China Sea has in total about 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas rated as proved or probable reserves. But those oil reserves in the South China Sea could present problems down the road, should the nations not be willing to share the resources and effectively drill and explore together.
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Contributed by Dawn Luger of The Daily Sheeple.