China reportedly increased activity around contested islands in the South China Sea during the G20 summit, according to Philippine sources, just days after President Barack Obama warned of consequences for such military actions.
The naval maneuvering also comes on the heels of a widely reported spat Chinese airport officials had withObama’s entourage and a group of U.S. journalists.
A Philippine Air Force aircraft identified four Chinese coast guard vessels, two barges, and two suspected troop ships near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed over the weekend.
The Scarborough Shoal is a territory located within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); however, China claims the shoal as an indisputable part of China’s sovereign territory. China managed to take control of the Scarborough Shoal after a standoff with the Philippine Navy in 2012.
“If [China tries] to construct anything in Scarborough, it will have far reaching adverse effect on the security situation,” Lorenzana explained.
Before he left for the G20 summit, President Barack Obama told CNN that there would be “consequences” if China chose to engage in provocative behavior at sea.
“Where we see them violating international rules and norms, as we have seen in some cases in the South China Sea …we’ve been very firm, and we’ve indicated to them that there will be consequences,” Obama explained.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against China’s vast claims to the South China Sea July 12. China rejects the ruling and refuses to acknowledge the authority of the tribunal.
“When it comes to issues related to security, if you sign a treaty that calls for international arbitration around maritime issues, the fact that you’re bigger than the Philippines or Vietnam or other countries in and of itself is not a reason for you to go around and flex your muscles,” Obama told CNN.
China responded to the Philippines’ accusations and demands for an explanation by denying any involvement in artificial island construction and telling the Philippines not to hype up the situation. China’s foreign ministry reports that nothing has changed.
“The Chinese side has maintained the patrol by coast guard vessels in relevant waters and there have also been some fishing boats for fishing operations in the relevant waters and the situation have always been like that, and has not changed,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
A Chinese official told the South China Morning Post late in August that China would probably start reclamation work on the Scarborough Shoal, the last remaining piece of the “strategic triangle” in the South China Sea, after the G20 summit. If China pursues this course of action, it will cross Obama’s “red line” in the sand.
“From the day we start reclamation on Huangyan Island [Scarborough Shoal] until we finish, it will be a very tense time. Everyone should be prepared. This is a major risk of historic proportions…This could push forward the date of a possible U.S.-China showdown by about 30 years,” explained Jin Canrong, a Chinese professor in the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, in late July.
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