Spratlys at stake
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts or all of the South China Sea, a territory believed to be sitting on rich deposits of oil, gas and minerals, as well as being a major shipping lane.
In 2002, China and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed a non-binding code of conduct to restrain claimant-states from conducting military activities and other provocative actions that could raise tension in the South China Sea. A flurry of incidents since February has provoked instability in the area.
Here is a recap of some key events in recent months.
- February 25 — Chinese warships harass, then fire upon, three Philippine fishing vessels operating in Quirino, or Jackson atoll, a Philippine-claimed islet off Palawan in the disputed Spratly Islands.
- March 4 — The Philippines files a protest with China over an incident near the Reed Bank in which Manila said two Chinese patrol boats threatened to ram a survey ship.
- March 28 — The Philippines says it has increased air and naval patrols and plans to upgrade an airstrip on an island it occupies in the South China Sea to strengthen its claim on the disputed area.
- April 13 — The Philippines protests to the United Nations over China’s claim’s to disputed areas in the South China Sea, saying Beijing’s stance has no basis under international law.
- May 23 — InterAksyon.com publishes an exclusive report by News5’s DJ Sta. Ana that China has expanded its military garrisons within Philippine-claimed territories in the South China Sea.
- May 27 — Vietnam says three Chinese patrol boats challenged a Vietnamese ship exploring for oil in the South China Sea, damaging equipment and warning the ship that it was violating Chinese territory.
- May 28 — China criticizes Vietnam for its offshore exploration of oil and gas in the South China Sea.
- June 1 — Manila summons China’s ambassador to Manila. Says Chinese navy boats erected pillars, set a buoy and unloaded materials near Amy Douglas Bank, inside the Philippines exclusive economic zone, and says any construction would be a clear violation of the code of conduct.
- June 4 — Manila starts referring to the South China Sea as the “West Philippine Sea”.
- June 5 — China’s defense minister tells an Asian defense forum that his country’s growing economic and military power was not a threat, saying Beijing is not seeking hegemony and will not threaten any country.
- June 8 — China steps up criticism of the Philippines in a fresh exchange of invective over disputed waters, calling on Manila to stop infringing its sovereignty with irresponsible claims over the South China Sea.
- June 9 — China says all claimant countries needs Beijing’s permission to conduct exploration activities in the Spratlys. Vietnam accuses China of harassing a ship conducting seismic surveys in the South China Sea. Vietnam says the ship was operating over its continental shelf and within its exclusive economic zone off the southern coast.
- June 11 — Vietnam confirms its navy will hold live-fire exercises off the central coast.
- June 12 — Vietnamese authorities tolerate a second day of anti-China protests in the capital, as more than 100 people demonstrate against what they see as bullying behavior by Beijing. Taiwan
- Taiwan is announces plans to deploy missile boats in the South China Sea and tanks on its claimed islands.
- Meanwhile, Philippine officials say they are ready to invoke a Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States should China use aggression in the South China Sea.
- June 14 — US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas says Manila has Washington’s “full support…including in the South China Sea.”
- US Senator Jim Webb, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on East Asia, says the US government must condemn China’s behaviour in the South China Sea, even as it should call for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the evolving crisis.