Tensions ramp up . . .
While the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic, China continues to push its claims in the South China Sea. Last week, China established two administrative districts on the Paracel and Spratly islands under the control of Sansha city. Vietnam protested immediately, claiming violation of its sovereignty. Following the incident, the United States Navy confirmed that two of its warships were operating in the area, which were soon joined by an Australian warship. Yesterday, Australia’s Foreign Minister also condemned China’s actions, saying it is vital to ease tensions in order to focus on combating COVID-19.
Sunken fishing boats . . .
Earlier this month, Vietnam alleged that a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel sunk a Vietnamese fishing boat. The Philippines released a statement in support of Vietnam, having experienced similar incursions in recent times. In March, similar reports emerged of Chinese fishing boats, flanked by Coast Guard vessels, chasing Indonesian fishing boats and barring them from getting their catch. Chinese government’s survey ships have also been seen tracking an exploration vessel operated by Malaysian state oil company Petronas, and remaining offshore near Malaysia as of last week.
Continued aggression during the pandemic . . .
While China’s recent actions in the South China Sea do not legally bolster its claims, it nevertheless highlights its unrelenting position. China pursues its claims even as it engages in ‘mask diplomacy’ with its Southeast Asian partners, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. While China has not officially stated its motives in these latest moves, observers argue that it could be sending a message that the pandemic has not incapacitated its navy and coast guard, or that it is taking advantage of COVID-19 and the shift in attention away from the region. In this context, Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and other regional points of conflict must continue to be watched.
- Al Jazeera: Two US warships in South China Sea amid China-Malaysia standoff
- Council on Foreign Relations: COVID-19 and the South China Sea
- The Diplomat: The danger of China’s maritime aggression amid COVID-19