New US-China confrontation hot spot in the East Sea
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New US-China confrontation hot spot in the East Sea

Scarborough/Hoang Nham Shoal in satellite image taken on March 12.

Speaking to Reuters news agency on March 19, Admiral John Richardson, chief of staff of the US Navy, revealed that Washington is monitoring Beijing’s increasing activities around the Scarborough/Huangyan Shoal in the East Sea.

`I think we have seen the activities of some surface vessels, exploration-like activities. That is an area of ​​concern, possibly the next accretion site,` Mr. Richardson warned.

According to experts from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), satellite images on March 24 do not show China’s construction activities in the sea.

But that does not mean that Chinese ships do not carry out surveys to prepare for land reclamation, Admiral Richardson emphasized.

Critical position

Faced with the possibility that Beijing may lose at least part of the `cow tongue line` lawsuit that Manila is pursuing at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), China will likely make moves to allow

Risks of escalating tensions include China re-blocking the Philippine marine unit stationed on Second Thomas Shoal, mobilizing military assets to Vietnam’s Truong Sa archipelago or declaring an identification zone.

Scarborough/Huangyan Shoal is located about 220 km from the main Philippine island of Luzon and 340 km from Manila.

In case China carries out land reclamation here, its military will likely maintain a presence throughout the East Sea, even reaching many areas in the main island of the Philippines, greatly influencing both the Philippines and the United States.

Unpredictable consequences

New US-China confrontation hot spot in the East Sea

China’s `gray zone` tactics in the East Sea are associated with the use of civilian and paramilitary ships to assert its sovereignty claims.

China’s land reclamation at Scarborough/Huangyan Shoal will bring countless challenges to the US and the Philippines, Mr. Poling commented.

From a security perspective, it negatively affects public perception of America’s readiness to maintain regional security.

Accretion at Scarborough/Huangyan could also have adverse impacts on the ecosystem in the area.

In addition, the reclamation at Scarborough/Huangyan may put an end to the efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to resolve regional tensions through diplomacy.

In the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), ASEAN countries and China agreed that they must limit `bringing people to reside on islands, reefs, shoals, small sandbanks as well as

Accretion at Scarborough/Huangyan would violate this core rule.

Cope with

New US-China confrontation hot spot in the East Sea

Location of Scarborough/Hoang Nham Shoal.

According to Mr. Poling, Beijing is clearly pursuing `gray zone` tactics, changing the status quo of an area by using civilian or paramilitary ships, avoiding openly using force.

The first step is to share intelligence about China’s behavior.

Admiral Richardson’s shares with Reuters show that the US is closely monitoring all movements at Scarborough/Hoang Nham Shoal, but it seems that Manila is not provided timely information by Washington, Mr. Poling said, based on the information.

The second key to containing Beijing is a clear, consistent message that the US will intervene if Philippine soldiers or ships are attacked at Scarborough/Huangyan Shoal, or any other area in the East Sea.

According to him, Filipinos have long been waiting for such a firm commitment from Washington, and the US government’s hesitation to make such a statement will increasingly make the Philippine side more skeptical about the `strength` in its words.

The US’s willingness to carry out its commitment to protect its allies when challenges arise is a key factor contributing to strengthening the Philippines’ determination to confront China in the face of incidents occurring in the `gray zone`.

The final and most difficult step to prevent China from encroaching on Scarborough/Huangyan Shoal is to strengthen the Philippines in the short term.

Scarborough/Hoang Nham Shoal contains a number of rocky structures that are allowed sovereign waters.

Therefore, the best chance to prevent China from building up at Scarborough/Huangyan is through the use of assets from the Philippines itself.

Blocking the entrance to the shoal or moving back and forth to block dredgers from sucking sand will make China’s reclamation activities almost impossible.

Beijing has so far shown hesitation in the face of military clash scenarios, not only with the US but also with other neighboring countries.

Hoang Nguyen

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