In a move that is seen as provocative to the Trump administration, China is finishing building almost a dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea. According to US officials, the structures appear to be designed to house long range surface to air missiles. This move by China is raising questions as to how the US will react to what is seen as a test to President Trump; bearing in mind his vow to take a tough line on China with regard to the South China Sea.
Asked to comment about the new move by China, a US intelligence official said that, “It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that’s what they are for.” Other US officials speaking on anonymity to Reuters said that building of the concrete structures on the islands where China has already build military -length airstrips could be interpreted as military escalation.
A spokesman from the Pentagon however said that the US will remain committed to a non-militarization of the South China Sea. He further urged all the claimants to the South China Sea to take actions that are consistent to international law. Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan are among other claimants of the South China Sea; which carries almost one third of the total maritime traffic in the world.
The South China Sea is a very critical maritime path in international trade and if the smooth flow of products through the route is disturbed then markets globally will be left in great disarray. Military intervention in case of a conflict in that area would result to a stalled exports and imports as companies look for alternative routes which might be more expensive and take longer for deliveries to be made. This would result to increased volatility in forex markets where speculative traders on Lionexo binary options and other online trading platforms would capitalize on for higher margins. On the other hand, the delay in movement of goods along the South China Sea would worsen balance of payments for countries using the route in their international trade; resulting to bitter geopolitical relationships among the countries involved in the conflict.
The Philippines were among the first to react to the news about the finishing of the buildings. While giving a statement about the new development on the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said that Southeast Asian countries saw the move by China to install weapons in the South China Sea as “very unsettling.” He further called for dialogue to stop an escalation of what he termed as “recent developments.”
Chas Freeman an expert on China and a former assistant secretary of defense in the US was however quick to clarify that the installation of weapons in the South China Sea might not be necessarily be meant to send a political signal to the US. Freeman said that he viewed the move by China as a military one meant to boost its claim over the South China Sea and keep off the other claimants by instilling fear in them. “There is a tendency here in Washington to imagine that it’s all about us, but we are not a claimant in the South China Sea,” Freeman said. “We are not going to challenge China’s possession of any of these land features in my judgment. If that’s going to happen, it’s going to be done by the Vietnamese, or the Filipinos or the Malaysians, who are the three counter-claimants of note.”
A US intelligence official also clarified that the structures did not pose any threat to the US forces in the region due to their visibility from far and how vulnerable they are considering their position in the South China Sea. He further said that building them was probably meant to be a political test for Trump administration to gauge how they would react when pushed to the corner. “The logical response would also be political – something that should not lead to military escalation in a vital strategic area,” the official added.
It is not yet known what the US reaction to the latest development in the South China Sea would be. However, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had previously told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that in the event of an unspecified “contingency,” the United States and its allies “must be capable of limiting China’s access to and use of” those islands to pose a threat.