China is rapidly expanding its naval power and increasing its presence in the South China Sea.In response, the Pentagon is placing more troops in the region than at any time since World War II, virtually flanking China’s eastern border with bases.
First, Australia will host a deployment of 200 U.S. Marines due to arrive in just a few weeks.
It will be the first rotation since the partnership was announced last year.
A 2,000 strong Marine expeditionary unit may eventually be stationed in Darwin, northern Australia, close to the South China Sea.
Japan will also host more U.S. deployments. The Marine Corps Times reports that the Corps will restart regular six-month deployments to Okinawa and the mainland. The usual rotations slowed down in 2005 as troops were diverted to Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the last year, China has gone as far as the Philippines where the encroaching Chinese were accused of intimidation and harassment as a maritime territorial dispute flared up.
President Benigno Aquino said this week to the AFP that he welcomes more U.S. troops to rotate through. The Philippines just announced another round of mutual defence exercises and training drills with the U.S. military as part of the ongoing Balikatan “shoulder-to-shoulder” program.
Beijing is also initiating a series of China-Philippines cultural events in a bid to repair tensions. The Philippines is willingly participating, though is taking steps to retain its close relationship with the U.S.
Photo: UNCLOS and CIA
President Aquino said the Philippines is looking to the U.S. for help in building up its defence capabilities.
American forces temporarily deploy to the Philippines at the request of the Philippine Government, but a possible joint-base deal is in the works.
In the conflict with al-Qaeda linked terror cells in the country’s southern region, which is a terrorist haven, the Philippine air force recently dropped high-tech smart bombs provided by the U.S., according to the Associated Press.
Perhaps most significantly, Travis Tritten at Stars and Stripes reports that the U.S. is relocating 4,700 Marines to Guam, creating the largest deployment of troops to the Pacific since World War II.
The U.S. will also continue to train Marines in the Philippines, deploy ships to Singapore, and conduct joint exercises with Thailand.
The growth of military activity in Asia is fortified by data published this week showing international arms transfers are being driven by Asian demand. The SIPRI arms transfers database reveals that Asia and Oceania accounted for 44 per cent of global arms imports from 2007-2011.
China was previously the number one recipient of arms in the world, but has now dropped to third as it shifts from being an importer to a bigger exporter — a sign that its defence industry is fully blossoming. It also supplies Pakistan with its anti-ship missiles, and hundreds of smart bombs.
In its defence, China says it’s only performing normal surveillance activity within its jurisdictional sea area. China, however, draws its own borders and refers to a map that violates international borders.
The United Nations law of the sea says that a country has jurisdiction over the maritime area within 300 miles of its coastline, known as an exclusive economic zone.
China prefers a map drawn up before the UN was formed, which gives it claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.
As Huy Duong from The Diplomat wrote, sometime in the last century China started to draw a mysterious U-shaped line on their maps that is expanding to include the economic zones of other countries.
Duong warns that South China Sea nations have more than economic interests at stake: “They also have reasons to fear that their security and national independence are threatened.”
As China builds up its naval power, their new aircraft carrier — the refurbished Soviet carrier Varyag — is getting closer to being fully operational. U.S. analysts expect China to push further into the South China and beyond.
But with U.S. troops preparing for more deployments to the region, China will be operating under the watchful eye of an American military force in readiness.
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