South China Sea crisis: US warned of ‘Beijing military action’ threat

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The US and China have been battling for supremacy in the disputed waters as Beijing ramps up its military ambitions in the South China Sea. Washington has for years stepped in to help neighbouring Asian countries who have been threatened by China’s military. This has included more patrols of US warships, which experts have warned could lead to accidental conflict.  

Professor Oriana Skylar Mastro from Georgetown University told the Council of Foreign Relations in June how the situation in the South China Sea could unravel.

She said: “I think there are some factors that show if China cannot achieve its goals, de facto control of the South China waters, it could escalate.

“The US could act more assertively, leading to aggression on the part of China.

“It’s possible that China will come to the conclusion that the diplomatic way of dealing with the situation isn’t working.

“Couple that with new power projection capabilities, military power for the first time… lastly, you could see China taking military action, such as seizing islands of kinetic action against US vessels in the South China Sea waters.”

This warning echoes the sentiment made by expert Professor Kerry Brown, who told last year that the communication between Chinese and American forces was worse than during the Cold War when the US had tensions with the Soviet Union.

He said: “At the moment dialogue between the US and China military to military is poor, some people say that it’s worse than between the USSR and the US during the Cold War.”

China has controversially seized control of much of the South China Sea due to its Nine Dash-Line claim, a demarcation for what the country believes to be its waters.

The South China Sea is hotly contested because of its lucrative shipping lanes, capacity for strategic military advantages and wealth of natural resources such as oil and minerals.

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At the centre of this disagreement are various island clusters such as the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.

China has had particularly tense relations with Vietnam and the Philippines over islands in the region.

Island claims are important because, under UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) negotiated in the Seventies and Eighties, there are no provisions granting ownership of waters without regard to land-based sovereign rights.

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