With international tensions mounting over China’s newly declared Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, the South China Morning Post reports that the Liaoning, China’s premier aircraft carrier, is now anchored in the similarly disputed South China Sea:
China’s only aircraft carrier has anchored and started training for the first time at the nation’s new dedicated base in the South China Sea.
The Defence Ministry confirmed for the first time on Thursday that the navy now has the ability to dock and service aircraft carriers at its Sanya base.
Analysts said it indicated China would locate its future carriers in the South China Sea, increasing tensions with nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam, which also have territorial claims in the region. [Source]
The Wall Street Journal has more on the possibility of this recent deployment aggravating tensions in the maritime region, where China holds various competing territorial claims with the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Indonesia:
Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez, spokesman of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs, said the deployment must be peaceful and not impede free movement in some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
“Its deployment does not contribute to collective efforts to strengthen regional stability and instead serves to threaten the status quo,” Mr. Hernandez said.
[…] Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for official comment, but Tang Siew Mun, director of Foreign Policy and Security Studies at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, which serves as a think-tank for the government, said that other countries need to get used to the idea of China projecting more power.
“If there is a concern at all, it is not over the issue of China acquiring what is potentially a power projection capability with vast offensive force,” Mr. Tang said, noting that China has more carriers in the pipeline. “The worry should be on the manner in which this capability is deployed.” [Source]
A report from NPR focuses in on renewed fears in the Philippines, and describes the ongoing dispute between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal (known in Chinese as Huangyan Island):
Among those actions [allowing China to be seen as a bully in the Philippines] was last year’s takeover of a disputed and potentially strategic shoal in the South China Sea that had been under Philippine control.
It started when Philippine authorities tried to arrest Chinese they accused of illegally fishing inside the shoal, which is really a shallow, triangle-shaped reef with a small opening at one end. China sent marine surveillance ships to block action by a Philippine navy frigate.
[…] The Chinese effectively sealed off the reef from Philippine fishermen and took control of Scarborough Shoal without firing a shot.
The shoal, rich in fish, is about 140 miles from the Philippine mainland and more than 500 miles from China. At high tide, only five rocks stick up out of the water, but Philippine officials worry China might one day declare them Chinese territory. [Source]
In April, navy officials announced plans for the imminent development of a new generation of aircraft carriers, and recently state media heavily covered the country’s nuclear submarine force, putting China’s growing naval prowess in the spotlight. While China’s fortification plans for the South China Sea seem to be relying largely on the navy, the Financial Times examines the likelihood of new ADIZs being created around contested areas in the southerly maritime region:
[…W]hile the focus [of the possible risk of conflict sparked by China’s recently announced ADIZ] has been on the Japanese-controlled chain – which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyu – China also said in the same statement it “will establish other air defence identification zones at the right moment after necessary preparations are completed”, raising the spectre of tensions spreading across the region.
[…] Ian Storey, a security expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said the most obvious candidates for any new Chinese air defence zones were the northern part of the South China Sea and the Yellow Sea.
[…] Mr Storey said China would probably not create an ADIZ for the whole South China Sea, saying it would be “absolutely outrageous” if they included the whole area inside the “nine-dash line”. Instead, he said China was more likely to establish a zone in the northern part of the sea, and particularly surrounding Hainan Island.
For more on China’s recent displays of military might in the South China Sea, see a round-up from Quartz.