South China Sea: Not just Taiwan: China is reaching out to other areas as well

The People's Republic of China's military has surrounded democratically ruled Taiwan for a large-scale maneuver.

South China Sea: Not just Taiwan: China is reaching out to other areas as well

The People's Republic of China's military has surrounded democratically ruled Taiwan for a large-scale maneuver. Long-range projectiles were fired, the Eastern Military Command of the People's Liberation Army reported. State television reported that there had also been "precision strikes" in the East for practice. Taiwan's armed forces are on combat readiness.

In total, China has designated six maneuver areas around the island. It is a reaction to US leader Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan, which Beijing regards as an affront. For Taiwan, it was the highest-ranking visit from the United States in a quarter century.

The communist-ruled China sees the island as part of the People's Republic, as a "breakaway province". Taiwan, on the other hand, emphasizes its independence.

But the People's Republic does not stop at Taiwan. For decades there have been territorial conflicts with other countries in the South China Sea, which have picked up speed in recent years. Up to seven countries claim territories here. And China creates facts.

The South China Sea area is of great strategic importance. Energy resources and fish stocks are suspected. But it is even more important that one of the most important international shipping routes is located in this area: According to a calculation by the "United Nations Conference on Trade and Development", goods worth around 3.4 trillion US dollars were shipped through the waters in 2016. Around a third of world trade is handled here.

And with the implementation of the new law of the sea (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS) since the 1980s, all riparian states have been able to assert rights over the economic control of areas that protrude 200 nautical miles or more into the sea, according to the scientist Peter Kreuzer from the Leibniz Institute Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research writes in a specialist article. grist to the mill of the conflict.

The PRC lays claim to almost the entire sea area for alleged historic rights. "The islands in the South China Sea have been Chinese territory since ancient times," says the Chinese embassy in Germany. Japan's defeat in World War II and Cold War geopolitics further complicated the conflict, writes the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US think tank.

Globalization, free trade agreements, the US commitment to a "free and open Indo-Pacific" and a military presence in the waters have further fueled the disputes. The US has military ships in the region ready to intervene militarily.

However, its economic rise and growing military capabilities have strengthened China's assertiveness in both seas, according to the CFR. According to an article published in the Hans Seidel Foundation's journal "Arguments and Materials for Development Cooperation," the People's Republic of China claims more than 80 percent of the South China Sea as national territory.

To bolster its territorial claims, Beijing has built some reefs into artificial islands in recent years and built military bases with runways, auxiliary buildings, loading bridges and communication facilities. The focus is on the Spratly Islands, where, according to the US Department of Defense, China has stationed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems.

However, the Spratlys are also claimed by Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. Malaysia, for example, had occupied several islands in the past, and Taiwan had occupied the largest of the Spratlys since the 1950s. But none of the states is as ruthless as the People's Republic.

The Paracel Islands off Vietnam, which the Southeast Asian country regards as its sovereign territory, are also part of Chinese expansion policy. A temporary oil drilling platform was set up there by China. There were even clashes between Vietnamese and Chinese ships. In addition to historical reasons, Vietnam justifies its territorial claim primarily with the international regulation of the 200-mile zone, which is part of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Both China and Vietnam have ratified this.

Beijing's territorial policies have profound security implications, according to think tank CFR. "The potential to deploy aircraft, missiles and anti-missile defense systems on each of its built islands greatly increases China's ability to project power and extends its range of operations south and east by up to 1000 kilometers."

The US think tank sees the danger of an armed conflict as a result of "miscalculations by captains or political leaders," which could also involve the United States. There were already military conflicts between China and Vietnam in 1974 and 1988, and between China and the Philippines in the 1990s.

The People's Republic, on the other hand, sees the tensions in the South China Sea more as a "problem of regional significance," writes sinologist Katja Drinhausen. "In the government's view, these are individual territorial issues that should be clarified directly between China and the respective countries."

In 2013, the Philippines took the step of clarifying and initiated arbitration proceedings against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The reason: disputes over China's fishing activities within the Scarborough Reef, which is claimed by both sides.

The decision of the court of arbitration was made three years later. It concluded that there was no "legal basis" for China to assert "historic rights" to the resources in the South China Sea. Thus the Philippines was proved right. The reefs occupied by China are "low-water elevations," making the disputed area international waters.

Shortly after the arbitral award was announced, the government in Beijing announced that it had doubts about the legality of the procedure and the arbitral award. The Chinese embassy in Germany said on a website about the arbitral tribunal's decision: "In response to such a step, the Chinese government reiterates its unwavering position that the arbitral award is null and void, has no binding effect and that China neither accepts nor acknowledges. The arbitration is essentially a pure political farce staged under a legal pretext. The former government of the Philippines was concocted and manipulated by certain forces outside the region into unilaterally initiating the arbitration without the consent of the other party Has."

Regarding the construction work in the area, the People's Republic said that the construction activities "on its own territory did not violate international law". The aim is to "improve the living conditions of the personnel stationed on the islands and to better fulfill China's international responsibility" in several areas. Regional peace and stability in the region would not be affected.

Rather, Beijing accuses the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam of carrying out expansion projects and stationing armaments on "the islands and reefs they illegally occupy". According to the embassy, ​​China is making "the greatest contribution to peace and stability in the South China Sea."

The situation in the South China Sea seems deadlocked, with no solution in sight for the time being. The smoldering conflict is unsettling states in the region - not just those involved. Australia is expanding its submarine fleet. Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are working together against China, they want to stand up to the giant empire in the Pacific.

The US stands behind these states on this issue and has also shown and continues to show a presence in the sea, which angers Beijing. "The US is taking sides and siding with certain neighboring countries. But that's not all: the US government is also sending warships to the region. This challenges China's national sovereignty and affects our security interests. The US is behaving very aggressively," he said Zhou Shixin, Asia-Pacific expert at the Shanghai State Institute for International Studies, Deutschlandfunk. A typical Chinese narrative, according to experts.

The South China Sea: It is and remains a powder keg that can explode at any time. A war is not unlikely. The military maneuvers now off Taiwan show that China is flexing its muscles and is not afraid to use them.

Sources: DPA News Agency, Council on Foreign Relations, "Invisible Borders – The South China Sea Conflict", The New Cosmos World Almanac

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