China’s aggressive ‘island building’ in the South China Sea is sparking a huge backlash from wary neighbors

Thursday, December 10, 2015 by

( The Chinese government no doubt views its construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea as a strategic investment Beijing’s communist leaders believe will improve national security, protect vital economic interests and give pause to competitors seeking to impose their will in the same waters. But the reality is, China’s “island building” strategy is far more likely to backfire, and indeed there are signs that is already happening.

As reported by Foreign Policy, the aggressive posture is leading Japan to abandon some of its post-World War II pacifism, as one-time enemy Vietnam buys U.S.-made weapons and the Philippines is inviting U.S. forces back a quarter-century after kicking them out.

Also, the tiny but wealthy city-state of Singapore has just granted the U.S. permission to operate U.S. Navy surveillance aircraft in its airspace and to operate from bases on its territory.

“Alarmed at what they see as Beijing’s bid to dominate the strategic waterway, nations there are spending billions on ships, submarines, planes, and other military hardware and actively seeking closer defense ties with Washington and with each other,” FP reported.

At the same time, as has reported, the U.S. continues to bolster its own presence in the area, including the addition of forces on Guam, to include thousands of Marines who will be added over the next two years.

That allies in the region are stepping up will no doubt be viewed as a positive development by the Obama administration, as the much-touted “rebalance to Asia” has been delayed somewhat by continued upheaval in the Middle East. But the Chinese island building has had the effect of refocusing the Pentagon’s Asia shift and is paving the way for American defense contractors to sell billions of dollars’ worth of new weapons to allies in the area.

China is claiming a massive swath of the South China sea – a triangle that stretches from its Hainan Island that encompasses the Paracel and Spratly islands and associated chains. In addition, the Chinese have attempted to establish an economic exclusion zone within territorial waters of surrounding nations. The fear is that the Chinese will attempted to bolster security in the claimed region with aggressive naval patrols, air defense systems and radar sites.

There are competing claims in the region made by Vietnam, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia, FP noted. Besides beefing up their own military and naval forces, these nations have taken additional measures against China, such as suing Beijing in international court, strengthening regional defense pacts, and pushing for trade agreements that will draw them closer to the U.S.

As for the new agreement with Singapore, Foreign Policy reported:

The defense agreement … reflects Singapore’s concerns over China’s assertive stance on territorial disputes. It also points to a broader trend among countries in the region to seek out the United States as a counterweight to China’s expansionist moves in the contested waterway.

Two Pentagon officials said the deal will permit the U.S. Navy to operate P-8 Poseidon planes from Singapore’s airfields, providing Washington with a strategic vantage point to track Beijing’s military activity in the South China Sea, which is home to more than $5 trillion worth of commercial shipping.

The parties “will sign an enhanced defense cooperation agreement that will lay the framework for closer cooperation on a number of areas, including humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, countering piracy and transnational terrorism, and cyberdefense,” a Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told FP.

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Foreign Policy

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