South China Sea: China launches outreach to neighbours


China is going the extra mile to reach out to its neighbours in the backdrop of the US stepping up pressure in the South China Sea by stating that it will deploy its ships in the territory. Engaging in    image building of its own military, China is hosting two international security forums. China is planning to leverage its forums to promote its views, explain its policies along with improving its security image.

Beginning on October 16, China will be hosting an informal meeting of defence ministers of the 10-member Association for South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and this will be followed by the Xiangshan Forum, at which analysts, military leaders and others from around the globe will discuss  Asian-Pacific security, maritime issues and anti-terrorism.  With China constructing new islands atop reefs and atolls in the South China Sea, it is also adding buildings and airstrips in   an attempt to boost its sovereignty claims to the territory.

The US Navy may soon receive approval to sail a ship inside the 12-nautical mile (21-kilometer) territorial limit surrounding China’s man-made islands, according to the Navy times which is associated closely with the US Navy. This would be the first time that US has directly challenged China’s territorial claims since 2012. It would also reinforce the US’ assertion that land reclamation does not amount to addition of sovereign territory. 

This potential move by the US has been welcomed by its allies in the region, especially the Philippines with whom China has a major dispute in the region. The Philippines, like the US, insists that the newly made islands by China threatens stability in the region which is increasingly   becoming militarised.  China will soon deploy its first aircraft carrier and is rapidly adding     advanced destroyers, missile cruisers and nuclear submarines.

The Xiangshan forum provides China an opportunity for a genuine two-way conversation rather than thrusting its views on other countries in the region. The presence of the US ships in the region is likely to escalate tensions in the region. While China’s economic rise has emerged as a counter to the US in the global financial system, the  US still dominates the world militarily with its superior prowess. China boasts of the world’s second largest defence budget.