Tensions around the contested island of Thitu (Tagalog: Pag-asa; Chinese: Zhongye) are escalating as China and the Philippines continue to press their claims. In March, the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and other observers counted up to 275 Chinese vessels near Thitu, up from December’s high of 95.
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From December through at least February, China deployed a fleet of vessels to the area around Thitu Island (called Pag-Asa Island in the Philippines), the largest of nine features claimed by the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, according to satellite analysis conducted by the CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) and reports from local fishing vessels.
China’s state-owned Xinhua News has reported the opening of a maritime rescue facility on Yongshu Reef (Fiery Cross Reef), one of the artificial islands it has built in the Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea.
In a cabinet meeting on Dec. 18, the government of Japan adopted new National Defense Program Guidelines that call for the “drastic strengthening of Japan’s defense capabilities.” The new guidelines adopt a “multidimensional joint defense force” strategy, based on investment in technological advancement.
The annual Asia-Pacific Economic (APEC) Summit concluded on Nov. 18 in Papua New Guinea with leaders failing to agree on a final communique for the first time ever, due to clashes between the United States and China. APEC is an intergovernmental forum of 21 Pacific Rim states, including Canada, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, Peru, Vietnam and others.
Water Wars: Pence Accuses China of Domestic Interference and Warships Have Close-Call in South China Sea
In a speech delivered on Oct. 4, Vice President Mike Pence escalated the Trump administration’s rhetoric against China. At the Hudson Institute, Pence warned that Beijing represents the greatest strategic competitor to the United States and outlined what the U.S. sees as increased economic and political interference by China, in addition to the existing military competition.
China and the Philippines plan to conduct talks and potentially sign an agreement regarding joint exploration for hydrocarbons, oil and natural gas in South China Sea. This agreement could cover portions of the South China Sea such as the Reed Bank that were under dispute in the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration.
At the ASEAN Regional Forum on Aug.
The 26th biennial Rim of the Pacific naval military exercises, the largest international maritime exercises in the world, kicked off in and around Hawaii on June 27 with one participant notably absent. The U.S. military chose to disinvite China this year due to its “continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col.
On May 18, the China Daily reports, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force landed multiple H-6K bomber aircrafts on the disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea. This is the first time China has publicly landed its bombers on any of the features in the South China Sea region.