China deepens S. China Sea presence

Beijing commissions two naval supply ships for Spratly Islands; has plans to establish n-reactors

China has flown a long-range bomber over the disputed Spratly Islands and commissioned two naval supply ships, reinforcing its intent to deepen its anchorage in the South China Sea, in defiance of Tuesday’s ruling by an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.

The Chinese website reported that that two large supply ships, Honghi and Luomahu, of 20,000 tonnes each, were commissioned on Friday at an unnamed naval port in the Guangdong Province.

Typically, supply ships replenish warships, far away from the coast. This signals China’s intent to maintain a durable naval presence in the high seas.

The same website reported that the Chinese air force has published a picture of its modern H-6K strategic bomber overflying the Scarborough Shoal in the Spratly Islands, which is in the cross-hairs of a dispute between China and the Philippines. The H-6K is a long-range bomber, with a nuclear capability, which has been designed to target U.S. aircraft carrier groups.

U.S- Philippines treaty

China took effective control of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 after a long standoff, but has not militarised it yet. Beijing’s assertion, nevertheless, triggered alarm in the Philippines, bringing into sharper focus the military defence treaty between Manila and Washington. The U.S. has now got the approval to establish five military bases in the Philippines. Analysts say that the militarisation of the Shoal by China, which could develop an airstrip there, is likely to be viewed as a “red line”, which could lead to a more assertive response by Washington.

Chinese media also reported that preparations are being made to deploy floating nuclear reactors, which can be used for desalinisation to deliver ample quantities of fresh water as well as generate electricity for personnel deployed in the disputed Spratly Islands.

While the U.S. and Japan have been vocal in seeking compliance from China of the award, they have been unable to form a united front with other countries.

For instance, the European Union (EU) on Friday had issued a statement on the tribunal’s ruling, but did not make any direct reference to China, signalling divisions within its ranks. Reuters reported that Britain, France and Germany did insist that Beijing must uphold international law. However, countries dependent on Chinese investment, such as Hungary and Greece, were unwilling to take a more categorical position. Similarly, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) that concluded on Saturday failed to make any reference to the South China Sea in its closing statement.

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