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China Uses Cloak of Covid Pandemic to Militarize South China Sea

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China Takes Advantage of Pandemic to Militarize South China Sea

International concern are growing as China takes advantage of the covid-19 pandemic to militarize the South China Sea. The Philippines and Vietnam have expressed “concern” to China over Chinese vessels massing in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippines is enraged over more than 200 vessels that they believe are part of China’s maritime militia.

A disagreement between China and the Philippines over the presence of 200-plus Chinese vessels at a disputed South China Sea reef has sparked concerns that Beijing is upping efforts to control these contested waters.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Vietnam have competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, through which at least $3.4 trillion of annual trade passes.

China claims almost the entire sea under its controversial “nine-dash line”, which a tribunal rejected.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has demanded the vessels leave Whitsun Reef, located in a shallow coral region in the Spratly Islands, about 320 kilometres (175 nautical miles) west of Palawan, in the Philippines.

Maritime militia

Manila has threatened to deploy additional navy ships to counter what it called an “incursion” and “militarizing the area” by vessels that Lorenzana classed as “maritime militia”. While China insists they are only fishing boats sheltering from rough seas.

China has attracted accusations of militarizing the region and posing a threat to other South China Sea claimants by building artificial islands in the waters and its deployment of fishing, coastguard and military vessels.

China, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan all have claims over the entire Union Banks, which includes Whitsun Reef.

“Having a hypothetical outpost on Whitsun Reef would appear advantageous in terms of enhancing physical control,” Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore says, noting the considerable distance between Fiery Cross Reef and Mischief Reef, the two largest artificial and militarized islands China has built in the Spratly chain.

“An additional outpost between them — about halfway between — could be useful. If it were located closer than Mischief Reef is to the energy-rich Reed Bank, a resource-based motive would have been clearer.”

The United States this week said it was backing the Philippines in its latest maritime feud with China. The US accused China of using “maritime militia to intimidate, provoke and threaten other nations, which undermines peace and security in the region”.

Chen Xiangmiao, an associate researcher with the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said Manila would this time probably come under domestic pressure to take a much harder line with Beijing over the South China Sea.

China’s maritime assertiveness has put Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in an awkward spot throughout his presidency due to his controversial embrace of Beijing and reluctance to speak out against the communist regime.

Source: Reuters, News Agencies

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