As tensions continue to rise in the South China Sea, US officials believe China is close to completing numerous structures on artificial islands that could be used to house long-range missiles.
First reported by Reuters, the move by China could push the United States towards a response, particularly since during his confirmation hearings, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had said China’s continued military buildup in the South China Sea would not be allowed.
Here are Tillerson’s comments:
China’s neighbours concerned
There is growing concern by China’s neighbours as the increased militarization in the area encroaches on disputed territory.
On January 17,2017, the Philippines released the following statement regarding China’s actions:
China’s government claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own territory, despite the fact that the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also have claims in the area.
According to US intel officials, an analysis of the buildings makes it most likely that they are for a military purpose.
If the islands were used to house long-range ground-to-air missiles, it would give China a clear strategic advantage in the area. They would be able to deny air access to any of their neighbours at anytime, clearing the way for their own aircraft.
Test of Trump?
Some consider the island building and possible missile facilities a test of the Trump administration. Others dispute that. As China expert Chas Freeman told Reuters, “There is a tendency here in Washington to imagine that it’s all about us, but we are not a claimant in the South China Sea. We are not going to challenge China’s possession of any of these land features in my judgment. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to be done by the Vietnamese, or . . . the Filipinos . . . or the Malaysians, who are the three counter-claimants of note.”
In dealing with the South China Sea, America faces competing pressures. On one hand, Trump has pledged to build up the US military, on the other, he has criticized US intervention and has said money should be spent on homeland infrastructure.
China may be testing those competing priorities under pressure, to see which one emerges victorious. That said, the most likely scenario is that China is trying to grab more territory and control, in order to assert dominance over their neighbours.
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