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China lays ever larger claim to South China Sea


To project strength at home and exploit an unprecedented security vacuum caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, China is doubling down on its expansive claims to the contested South China Sea.

China’s State Council, the country’s chief administrative authority, announced in recent days the establishment of two new administrative districts in the South China Sea.

Chinese state media dubbed the little noticed distinction as a “major administrative move”, one that could put Beijing on a new collision course with rival claimants in the maritime area.

The move comes as the United States, the region’s long-time security guarantor, suspends its overseas naval deployments while grounding a major aircraft carrier, the USS Roosevelt, due to a coronavirus outbreak on the vessel. 

The pandemic may also have caused the US Air Force to abruptly end its 15-year-old “Continuous Bomber Presence Mission” in Guam, an unannounced and dramatic move that strategic analysts suggest could open the way for China to be more assertive in adjacent waters

The withdrawal came just days after US bombers took part in a so-called “elephant walk” readiness drill involving the departed bombers, refueling tankers, helicopters and drones, aimed apparently as a statement of American resolve aimed at China.  

The Pentagon has announced it will redeploy the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific to reenforce its Pacific fleet, but America’s suddenly uncertain strategic position has arguably provided a unique opportunity for Chinese maritime expansionism.

Map of China’s South China Sea claims with “Xisha” and “Nansha” islands indicated. China’s wider claims indicated by pink lines. Photo: Wikimedia

In that direction, Beijing introduced on April 18 the Xisha and Nansha districts under the aegis of Sansha City, itself a new prefecture-level unity first established in 2012 on the Woody (Yongxing) Island in the sea’s Paracel island chain that China contests with Vietnam.



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