South China Sea Dispute Heats Up

South China Sea Dispute, cc wikicommons Yeu Ninje

China’s recent construction on disputed atolls in the South China Sea has accelerated the stop-start cycle of dispute there. This series of surveillance photographs from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative gives some idea of the expanding scope of the effort. Only last July the decision of the Chinese authorities to withdraw the HYSY-981 oil rig a month early from Vietnamese-claimed waters diffused ongoing physical confrontations at sea between their respective ships. What particular set of circumstances prompted Beijing to climb down then, having made its point about China’s territorial claims, is debatable. It may have had more to do with the weather than diplomacy, though a wish to avoid driving Hanoi too far into the arms of Washington will have played a part in its calculations. Now however China is revealed to be rapidly expanding its physical infrastructure, and consolidating its presence in the region it provoked a storm in less than a year ago.

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