South China Sea | Beijing and Washington maneuvering in disputed waters

(Beijing) China on Thursday released footage of fighter jets allegedly firing missiles into the South China Sea, as the United States and the Philippines hold drills there after a series of incidents in disputed waters.

Manila and Beijing have a long history of maritime disputes in the South China Sea, but former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was reluctant to criticize his powerful neighbor.

Since his arrival at the presidency in June 2022, his successor Ferdinand Marcos Jr has adopted a firmer stance against China on sovereignty issues and has moved closer to the United States.

In December, Chinese ships fired water cannons at Philippine boats during two separate resupply missions to disputed reefs, according to videos released by the Philippine Coast Guard.

A collision between a Philippine ship and a Chinese coast guard boat also occurred. China and the Philippines then blamed each other for the accident.

On Thursday, state television and the Chinese military broadcast footage they described as “live fire exercises” in the South China Sea.

Video shows fighter jets taking off and then firing missiles at targets.

The date of filming was not specified, but the broadcast comes the day after Beijing announced “routine patrols” by its naval and air forces in the South China Sea until Thursday.

“Show of force”

The army did not specify the location of these exercises nor the number of soldiers or devices mobilized.

The previous military exercise made public in the China Sea dates back to November. Four more took place in September.

The United States, for its part, announced that a carrier strike group, around the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, was carrying out exercises in the South China Sea with the Philippine Navy.

“The US Navy conducts such exercises regularly to strengthen ties with allied and partner nations,” said a press release, specifying that these exercises will also last two days.

An official of the Philippine forces, Xerxes Trinidad, told AFP on Thursday that these exercises were taking place in the area where the face-to-face with Chinese ships took place last month.

Beijing on Thursday described these maneuvers as “provocations” in what it considers an attack on its territorial integrity.

These exercises carried out “for the purpose of a demonstration of force and are not conducive to controlling disputes and the situation,” a spokesperson for Chinese diplomacy, Wang Wenbin, told the press when questioned on this subject.

Beijing claims to have been the first nation to discover and name the islands in the South China Sea, a vast maritime area through which much of the trade between Asia and the rest of the world passes today.

“Key defensive zone”

Other riparian countries (Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei) have competing claims and each controls several islands.

Seized by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration, an organization based in the Netherlands, rejected the Chinese claims in 2016, considering them to have no legal basis.

Beijing denounced this decision, considering in particular the Philippine procedure before this jurisdiction to be non-compliant.

In recent years, China has built artificial islands in the China Sea which it has militarized to strengthen its positions.

“The South China Sea is becoming a key defensive zone for China,” military analyst Michael Raska, a professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, told AFP.

Beijing seeks to make this vast maritime area “a waterway controlled by China” alone, in order to strengthen its influence and its projection capacity, believes Mr. Raska.

Faced with the country’s territorial claims as well as its growing influence and military capabilities, the Philippines entered into military agreements with the United States and Australia this year.


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