Rival claimants in S China Sea will not leave Beijing unchallenged ( Source- Want China Times)

Image credits- Reuters
Source- Want China Times

Tensions are high in the South China Sea with the US stating that it may patrol disputed areas in the region after a P8 Poseidon aircraft patrolled the skies over Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, leading to an exchange of words between Beijing and Washington, according to Duowei News, a media outlet run by overseas Chinese.

Other claimants are also building up their naval forces, leading to fears that open conflict may be imminent in the region. The most vocal rival to China is the Philippines, which has openly requested military aid from the US and has discussed joint action with Japan on the South China Sea issue as well as taking its case to the UN for arbitration.

Military Build-up

By 2020, the average military spending of Southeast Asian countries will increase from the current US$42 billion to US$58 billion, according to the UK's IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.

Beijing's acceleration of land reclamation on reefs in the South China Sea has alarmed several Asian countries, spurring them to increase their military spending, especially on hardware that could be used in the South China Sea, said Duowei. The reclamation has also led to tension between the PLA Navy and the US Air Force.

China claims sovereignty over the majority of the South China Sea, but five other countries also claim the Spratlys in whole or in part, namely Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. The South China Sea is believed to hold rich energy resources and is a crucial shipping lane, with cargo valued at US$5 trillion passing through each year.

Tim Huxley, director of the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that the military attack range of claimant nations is on the increase, adding that a confrontation could potentially result in a major conflict.

The Philippines

The Philippine defense minister, Voltaire Gazmin, announced on May 25 that on May 27 he would meet with his US counterpart Ash Carter in Hawaii to discuss the South China Sea issue and to ask for more aid from the US. "I will ask about the extent of the assistance they will give us, what they can do to help us because right now we are being oppressed," said Gazmin at a naval base in Manila. "We feel concerned about what is happening in the West Philippine Sea [South China Sea]. Freedom of navigation, freedom of flight is disrupted so that even US aircraft flying at [sic] the international territory are challenged," he said. A senior Philippine official told Reuters that Gazmin will ask for secondhand aircraft, warships and coastal radar systems.

Gazmin is also set to accompany President Benigno Aquino on a three-day visit to Tokyo to discuss the South China Sea and the possibility of Japanese provision of equipment to the Philippines.

Aquino announced on May 25 that the Philippines would engage in air patrols over disputed islands, following on from the US P8 that flew over Fiery Cross Reef last week.

Japan has been working more closely with the Philippines and Malaysia in military matters, suggesting that they hope to challenge China's increasing military presence in the region. On May 25, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that Japan has already made an agreement with Malaysia and that the two countries will increase their level of military cooperation and begin negotiations on exchange of military equipment.

Katsunobu Kato, parliamentary secretary of the Japanese cabinet office, said that although the details are yet to be hammered out, cooperation will include maritime disaster response and naval security. He said that Malaysia is the first country in Southeast Asia with which Japan has entered into negotiations on this kind of cooperation.

A Reuters report from May 26 stated that Japan is also set to take part in a joint military exercise with the US and Australia in early July. Over 30,000 soldiers from the three countries will take part in the exercise, although Japan will only send 40.

The three participating countries have stated that they are highly concerned about maritime and air routes over the South China Sea, suggesting that they are worried that China may enforce limits on air or shipping routes once land reclamation has given the PLA the ability to establish a permanent base of command.

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