Wed, Jan 24, 2018 - Page 6 News List

China speaks out as US downplays patrols

Reuters, HONG KONG and BEIJING

China has added bunkers, hangars and advanced radars on its new runways in the Spratlys, although it has not fully equipped them with the advanced surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles they use to protect the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) further north.

Similarly, Beijing has yet to land jet fighters in the Spratlys — test flights some experts are expecting this year.

The latest patrol was at least the fifth such patrol under the Trump administration and the first to Scarborough — one of the more contentious features in the region.

Scarborough, once a US bombing range, was blockaded by the Chinese in 2012, prompting the Philippines to launch its successful legal case in the Hague against China’s excessive territorial claims.

China allowed Filipino fishermen back to Scarborough’s rich waters last year, but it remains a potential flashpoint as both sides claim sovereignty and China maintains a steady presence of ships nearby.

While experts and regional envoys expect China to ramp up operations from the Spratlys, none expect it to build on Scarborough —something widely believed to be a red line that would provoke the US, given its long-standing security treaty with the Philippines.

Shi Yinhong (時殷弘), who heads the Center for American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University, said that China had “lived with” US patrols for several years, but the key facts on the ground remained in China’s favor and broader tensions had “improved remarkably.”

“These islands, especially those with reclaimed land and military capability already deployed, they’re still in Chinese hands,” said Shi, who has advised the Chinese government on diplomacy.

“I don’t think Trump has the stomach and the guts to change this fundamental ‘status quo,’” he said.

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