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Has China gained the upper hand in a sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea?

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Has China gained the upper hand in a sovereignty dispute in the South China Sea?

China has held a series of military exercises in various waters from the end of July until the weekend, but in addition to being primarily intended to deter Taiwan, the exercises are also considered to be a full demonstration of China’s ability to control the South China Sea.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall again warned of China’s military expansion in the South China Sea during a visit to Australia on Monday, saying the United States was concerned about China’s development and militarization of the region.

“I think at this point everyone around the world is worried about China’s behavior and their very aggressive approach.” Kendall said at a joint news conference with Australian Air Force Commander Rob Chipman.

Military observers point out that China, with its growing economic and military power, has begun to gain a lot of upper hand in this strategic competition, getting closer to dominating the South China Sea, and gray coercive strategies such as Coast Guard patrols have prevented other claimants from exploiting oil and gas resources in their surrounding waters for many years.

South China Lake

Gregory Poling, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, said China’s desire to dominate the South China Sea since the 1980s has yet to be achieved, “but it is much closer than Washington is willing to acknowledge.”

“The truth is, the United States may have no choice but to cede the South China Sea at the beginning of any conflict with China,” he said. ”

The director of the think tank’s Southeast Asia program recently pointed out in an article published on the foreign affairs website that the closest U.S. fighter jets to the South China Sea are deployed in Okinawa and Guam, 1,300 and 1,500 nautical miles from the Spratly Islands, respectively, while China has four air bases on the ground, not including smaller facilities or coastal facilities, and given such a force structure, China can control the entire South China Sea in the early stages of any conflict.

Its vast superiority in missile power will also turn the South China Sea into a firing range, and the situation “will soon become clear that the United States will not be able to protect U.S. Naval warships in the region.”

Senior U.S. generals have repeatedly warned in recent years about the People’s Liberation Army’s control of the South China Sea. As early as 2018, Philip Davidson, then commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, testified in the Senate that China “now has the ability to control the South China Sea in all circumstances except at war with the United States.”

Mark Kelly, commander of the U.S. Air Combat Command, told the Air Force Association’s annual symposium last year that China was able to claim parts of the South China Sea “without firing a shot” because of the increasing difficulty of challenging China in the South China Sea.

Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, recently warned again that if the United States does not challenge, the waters under Chinese control will suddenly become military outposts like islands in the South China Sea. “They’re now fully functional, with missiles, large runways, hangars, radars, and listening stations,” he said. ”

Pauling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said much of China’s military infrastructure in the South China Sea is protected by fortified bunkers, meaning paralyzing the bases could require hundreds of missiles, while the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command doesn’t have so much ammunition, especially if any U.S.-China conflict is unlikely to be limited to the South China Sea. Any missiles thrown at the Spratly Islands must be drawn from the defense of Tokyo or Taipei.

“The numbers are already cruel and getting worse: the stronger China is, the harder it is to imagine how the U.S. military will act during the conflict in the South China Sea,” he said.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed again at the East Asian Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month that China was the first to discover, name and exploit the South China Sea zhudao and related waters, and China’s position on the South China Sea issue has a sufficient historical and legal basis.

Lyle Morris, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, said China is gradually changing the situation in the South China Sea, which in turn controls the entire South China Sea.

In an interview with VOA, he said: “China has fully demonstrated that it can militarily maintain its power in the South China Sea, and the other countries in general have not responded very forcefully because I think they are worried about some kind of military friction with China.” ”

Pauline also stressed that there is not much time left to effectively safeguard U.S. interests in the South China Sea. In an interview with one of the United States, he said the South China Sea was rapidly developing to the point where it would be too difficult, too dangerous or too expensive for Southeast Asian countries to pursue their rights, “And if we get to that point, it doesn’t matter even if the U.S. Navy continues to sail in the South China Sea, which China has turned into a de facto Lake China.” ”

The soldiers attacked the heart

Pauline stressed that China does not want to fight with the United States, but prefers to use deterrence in other small countries and to yield without a fight, because even if the ability to defeat the US military, it is more cost than profit.

He told VOA that if you are Beijing, your goal in the South China Sea is not a big battle against the U.S. Seventh Fleet, “and your goal is to convince all U.S. partners and allies in the region that U.S. forces were defeated before the battle began, because the United States cannot be counted on to help defend the rights and resources of its partners.” ”

Pauling said That in the past five years or so China has made it nearly impossible for any Southeast Asian country to explore for oil and gas.

 “If you look at oil and gas projects since the end of 2018, every new oil and gas exploration project anywhere in the South China Sea, or at least anywhere within the Nine Dash Line, is immediately challenged by the China Coast Guard, whether it’s Malaysia or Vietnam or now Indonesia, so drilling for oil and gas in the South China Sea is becoming more and more dangerous, riskier and more expensive,” he told VOA. “So, drilling for oil and gas in the South China Sea is becoming more and more dangerous, riskier and more expensive. This is true even in very clearly uncontroversial waters.”

The Southeast Asian expert said that if the U.S. military can’t help Southeast Asian countries defend their interests, can’t help southeast Asian fishermen and their oil and gas companies, they will question why they lean toward the United States: “If you are the Government of Malaysia or the Government of Indonesia, one day you will look around and you will say, if I only help your Seventh Fleet, but do not help me, then what good is it for me to support the U.S. presence in Asia?” ”

Australia’s largest business news website a comment on Friday that Southeast Asian countries know it. The review said, “Beijing has won the South China Sea.”

The comment, signed by Jamie Saidel, says peacetime “gray area” intimidation tactics have reached what they might not have been able to achieve: regional control.

During the recent Rim Of Taiwan exercise, China carved out six different areas around Taiwan for live-fire, two of which were guarded by the Bashi Strait, which is a necessary place to enter and exit the South China Sea. Dean Cheng, of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, said the exercises signalled that China was dominant in the South China Sea.

In a paper last week, he noted that China’s assessment said it would effectively mean China’s ability to close the Bashi Strait, which, while a bit of an exaggeration for the U.S. Navy, “could raise concerns among smaller countries around the South China Sea.” For example, the other claimants in the Spratlys (Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) do not have strong navies or naval ballistic missile defense systems. ”

Emirza Syailendra of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore said Malaysia and Indonesia had chosen to “dance along” in the face of frequent incursions by the Chinese Coast Guard.

He said the two navies simply “trailed” rather than confronted and drove away, much like a waltz jump: when the Chinese coast guard ship moves forward, the two navies move backwards, and vice versa.

Writing in The Diplomat last week, Saiyalendra said the rules of engagement are simple: As Indonesia’s defense ministry strategy chief recently put it, “jangan bikin gaduh” or “don’t escalate first.” With everyone exercising restraint, the principle of non-escalation is tantamount to assuring the Chinese Coast Guard vessel that there will be no confrontation between the two sides, so Chinese can remain in the disputed area.

For many years, China has offered to “shelve disputes and jointly develop” with the countries involved in the dispute, and this proposal is the most eye-catching cooperation project between China and the Philippines.

The Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China on Oil and Gas Development Cooperation in 2018, however, outgoing Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin, Jr. revealed in June that President Duterte had decided to completely terminate oil and gas negotiations with China, bringing the iconic joint development negotiations to an impasse.

However, at a seminar last month, Some Chinese experts pointed out that Löchin’s speech on non-relevant formal occasions should not be taken as an official conclusion of the Philippine side.

China said that the increasing internationalization and complexity of the South China Sea (South China Sea) issue is due to various interferences by extraterritorial powers, efforts by China and ASEAN countries to manage disputes, and overall peace and stability in the South China Sea, and the freedom of navigation and overflight has never been a problem.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at the East Asian Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month that the peaceful settlement of disputes through consultations and negotiations between the countries directly concerned is a common commitment made by China and ASEAN countries in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea.

The Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea is the first political document signed between China and ASEAN countries on the South China Sea issue in 2002, and has been widely recognized by relevant countries.

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pei Qingshan also said during a meeting with Wang Yi in Phnom Penh in July that the declaration would be fully implemented, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

On the other hand, recent ASEAN meetings have shown that countries continue to challenge China to some extent on the issue of sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea. The ASEAN Ministerial Meeting statement earlier this month made it clear that the meeting discussed the South China Sea issue and expressed concerns about land reclamation and related activities, saying that these actions “exacerbate tensions and could undermine peace, security and stability in the region.””

Royal Australian Air Force chief Chipman said Monday that while China had concentrated “strong aviation capabilities” in the South China Sea, Australia could still conduct military operations there. “That doesn’t mean it’s impenetrable, nor does it mean that you can’t get your benefits through military effect when you take action against China, so I don’t think it’s reached the point of excluding us,”

Lyle Morris, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation, believes the United States will not be intimidated in the South China Sea or allowed to become a Lake of China under full Chinese control. “And I also think that, almost universally within other claimants, this is unacceptable,” he said. ”

Pauline, a security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also said that the United States still has the foremost influence in Asia, and although the United States cannot compare with China in the number of ships and military aircraft, the United States has many advantages that China cannot match, including a network of like-minded allies and partners, while China is isolated.