China vs Vietnam: Beijing patrols seen on island Hanoi claimed in South China Sea

South China Sea: Military exercises ‘must continue’ says expert

And a London-based academic has said the move is a clear indication of Beijing’s determination to establish total dominance of the disputed waterway adding that their policy would not change as long as President Xi Jinping remained in power. Scarborough Shoal is regarded as an important strategic bridgehead – and earlier this year, Assistant US Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell warned any occupy, reclaim, or militarise the remote island “would be a dangerous move” which would have “lasting and severe consequences”.

However, his words appear to have had little impact on the Chinese Coast Guard, according to the report, published by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which looked at the movements of various CCG ships so far in 2020.

In the 12 months since December 1, 2019, patrols appear to have been stepped up around Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal and Luconia Shoals.

There was a minimum of one CCG vessel, and often two, broadcasting from Scarborough Shoal on 287 of the last 366 days – substantially more than 162 days last year.

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In the case of Luconia Shoals, the figure was 279 days and for Second Thomas Shoal, 232 days.

The report said: “The CCG not only maintained a persistent presence at Second Thomas Shoal, Luconia Shoals, and Scarborough Shoal but appears to have increased the frequency of patrols during the pandemic.

“CCG behaviour during these patrols appears unchanged from 2019. Vessels deployed around Luconia occasionally challenged nearby Malaysian oil and gas activity.

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“Those patrolling Second Thomas often made loops around nearby Half-Moon Shoal, a submerged feature 60 nautical miles off Palawan where, in 2014, Philippine authorities arrested 11 Chinese fishers for poaching.

“But there has been one noteworthy addition to the regular CCG patrol route since July of this year: Vanguard Bank off Vietnam’s southeast coast.

“A CCG ship was broadcasting AIS from Vanguard on 137 of the 153 days between July 1 and December 1. The submerged bank is near the site of a months-long standoff between China and Vietnam over oil and gas drilling in 2019.

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“It had gone quiet until CCG vessels began persistent patrols in July. That coincides with Hanoi’s decision to cancel planned drilling in Block 06-01 – the site of the 2019 standoff.

“The persistent CCG patrols since then have been concentrated to the east of that block, near Vanguard Bank itself.”

Significantly, the report added, other Southeast Asian countries with rival sovereignty in the South China Sea had largely refrained from deploying law enforcement or naval vessels to contest these routine patrols., suggesting China was successfully normalising its presence.

Professor Steve Tsang of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London said the data reflected the importance the Chinese Government attaches to the South China Sea.

He added: “Back in 2010 the Chinese Government allowed semi-official spokesmen to put forth the idea that the South China Sea should be treated as a core national interest of China.

“When this was challenged by the US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the Hanoi Asean Regional Forum, Beijing backed off, but then changed track.

“It started to build artificial islands out of atolls and reefs there and maintain a strong maritime presence.

“There is little doubt that Beijing intends to establish control over the South China Sea.

“This is not going to change whatever pushback there may be from the USA and other Western democracies as long as Xi Jinping remains leader of the Communist Party and thus of China.”

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