Beijing’s reported deployment of surface-to-air missile bound to be introspected as launchers on an island in the South China Sea recently photographed by a commercial satellite is an act of grave provocation. It is clearly in violation of the spirit of a 2002 Asean-China joint declaration on the conduct of parties in the South China Sea which affirms the signatories’ commitment to international law. China’s unilateral action, clearly aimed at militarily asserting its claim in the maritime region, is going to aggravate tensions in the South China Sea, a key international shipping route through which $5 trillion worth trade passes each year.
Beijing is not going to be amused at the detection of the missiles on Woody Island. It could think of imposing an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) whereby China can question and intercept aircraft flying in that area. This could increase chances of conflict, especially with the US insisting on its right to continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international laws permits. Already aircraft from the Philippines overflying the Spratly Islands, another disputed archipelago in the South China Sea, have been the recipients of such stern warnings due to a Chinese ADIZ established in the area. The South China Sea is the scene of multiple and complex maritime disputes between several countries with China as the central player. Beijing claims 1.35 million square miles of water in the area, thus virtually regarding the entire South China Sea to be its own.
China is busy buildings roads, runways, jetties and other infrastructure on some of the disputed islands and all these activities invite suspicion of its expansionist intent. China also wants the world to respect it as a peaceful nation. It is imperative that it disengages militarily in the South China Sea and seeks to resolve its disputes peacefully through negotiations. Muscle flexing is not going to help build a benign image.
– Tribune, Chandigarh