Last week, China formally established a military garrison in the South China Sea. The troops will be stationed on Yongxing Island (pictured), which was previously designated the capital of a newly created city, an administrative region called Sansha.
The move is intended to extend Chinese administrative control over the resource-rich Paracel, Spratly and Macclesfield Bank island groups, known in China as Xisha, Nansha and Zongsha, respectively. The islands are also claimed by other countries in the region.
"China's move in the South China Sea to declare Sansha a city and establish a garrison must be watched but over-reaction will not help," said Associate Professor Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, who also teaches international law at the National University of Singapore.
"Some of the other claimants have also taken unilateral steps of their own and there is a risk of a tit-for-tat escalation," he added.
According to reports, the Philippine government is set to auction off three areas in the South China Sea for oil and gas exploration that are also claimed by China.
The blocks being auctioned are off Palawan province, near Malampaya and Sampaguita where natural gas was discovered. But that area, near Reed Bank, is also claimed by China.
Challenges For ASEAN
At recent ministerial-level meetings in Phnom Penh, ASEAN countries were unable to agree on a joint communique for the first time in the organisation's history. The failure was due to disagreements on how the South China Sea should be addressed.
ASEAN later released a statement on the matter, but the initial falling-out at the meetings has caused some to question ASEAN's ability to address the South China Sea territorial disputes. However, these criticisms may be too harsh.
"For ASEAN, there are things it can realistically do, and should. But resolving the issue does not depend on ASEAN alone and should not be the sole benchmark of the group's ability and credibility," said SIIA Chairman Simon Tay.
Other Maritime Disputes
Beyond the South China Sea, China and South Korea have slammed Japan’s claims to territorial rights over the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands, which are claimed by all three countries.
South Korea has expressed “deep regret” that Japan chose to assert its claim to the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islets for an eighth year in an annual defense white paper released this week.
“Recently we have noticed the irresponsible remarks made by some officials in Japan about the Diaoyu islands,” said China’s Defense Ministry Spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a media briefing in Beijing. “Such erroneous remarks will be met with the opposition of the Chinese people.”
Analysis: ASEAN path to economic union muddied by South China Sea [Reuters, 31 Jul 2012]
Analysis: Challenging Beijing in the South China Sea [Voice of America, 31 Jul 2012]
Report: Philippines to auction South China Sea exploration blocks [BBC, 31 Jul 2012]
Analysis: New Garrison, Old Troubles in the South China Sea [TIME, 26 Jul 2012]
Report: China, South Korea Slam Japan’s Claims Over Disputed Islands [Bloomberg, 31 Jul 2012]