Though the media’s eyes are trained primarily on ISIS and the Middle East, China and many of its neighbors are still locked in a dangerous geopolitical contest in the South and East China Seas. The Diplomat reports that China has finished building a runway for military aircraft on one of the disputed Paracel Islands, part of its efforts to solidify its territorial claims:
“With the completion and continued improvements to the runway on Yongxing, military aircraft can be based in the Paracels, and greatly improve Chinese defense capabilities” in the South China Sea, AFP quoted the Xinhua article as saying. […]
Regardless of whether China has built a new airstrip on Woody Island or just extended the existing one [about which there is some confusion], the move is consistent with its ongoing effort to build up military and other facilities on islands and reefs it administers throughout the South China Sea as a way to strengthen both its claims of sovereignty and the PLA’s ability to patrol the vast waters that China claims in the region.
Meanwhile, the Philippines is trying to put the brakes on Chinese expansionism by taking its case to the UN. Filipino President Benigno Aquino declared a moratorium on all development work in the South China Sea in order to bolster the legitimacy of Filipino claims when and if they are arbitrated by the UN next year. Reuters reports:
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told a budget hearing at the upper house of Congress that President Benigno Aquino had ordered a halt to all development plans, including repair of an airstrip, in the Spratly Islands. […]The Philippines, a close U.S. ally, has brought a case to the U.N. arbitral court in The Hague, seeking clarification on its entitlements under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.China has refused to take part in the arbitration. A ruling is expected late next year.Gazmin said the Philippines had stopped all its construction activities in the Spratlys because it wanted to maintain the moral high ground in terms of the territorial dispute.
The various players in the Asia’s Game of Thrones are not taking a vacation simply because their actions have faded into the background of the Western media’s coverage.