BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
GUAM HOSTS JOINT EXERCISES BETWEEN FORCES OF JAPAN, FRANCE, BRITAIN, US
U.S. marines joined with forces from Japan, France and Britain for live-firing exercises on the American territory of Guam that are intended to show support for the free passage of vessels in international waters amid concerns China may restrict access to the South China Sea.
The drills are being held around Guam and Tinian islands about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) south of Tokyo and east of Manila, Philippines.
The exercises feature two French ships currently on a four-month deployment to the Indian and Pacific oceans. Some 50 Japanese soldiers and 160 Japanese sailors were due to participate, along with U.K. helicopters and 70 U.K. troops deployed with one of the French ships.
The drills had been halted temporarily Friday after a French landing craft ran aground. U.S. officials said they stopped the drills so they could assess the situation. They moved ahead as scheduled on Saturday.
SHIPS FROM THAILAND, SINGAPORE, JOIN US NAVY IN SOUTH CHINA SEA DRILLS
Ships from the navies of Thailand and Singapore completed a three-day exercise with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea last week aimed at boosting their ability to work together on a broad range of maritime tasks.
The exercises, termed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) have been held since 1995 with Thailand and Singapore as original participants.
“Our Sailors certainly are learning extensively from this tremendous experience,” Cmdr. Doug Meagher, who commands the littoral combat ship USS Coronado, was quoted as saying by the website navy.mil.
Singapore and Thailand sent frigates to take part in the drills, which also included the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.
Along with operating together at sea, the exercises included boarding, search and seizure, joint flight operations and communications drills.
PHILIPPINES BEGINS MOVING TROOPS AND SUPPLIES TO REINFORCE ISLAND HOLDING
The Philippines has started transporting troops and supplies to a disputed island in the South China Sea in preparation for construction work that includes reinforcing and lengthening an airstrip and building a dock.
Pag-asa has been home to Filipino soldiers and fishermen for decades, but is also claimed by Beijing.
Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, head of the Philippine military’s Western Command, said last week that troops and initial supplies had arrived on the island. About 1.6 billion pesos ($32 million) has been earmarked for the construction that will also include a fishing port, solar power generators, a water desalination plant, the refurbishment of housing for soldiers and the construction of facilities for marine research and tourists.
China’s construction of seven islands nearby in the Spratly archipelago has dwarfed similar activities by rival claimants, including the Philippines, whose frosty relations with Beijing have improved significantly under President Rodrigo Duterte.
JAPAN, INDIA AFFIRM PLANS TO STRENGTHEN MILITARY COOPERATION
Japan and India affirmed plans last week to strengthen their military cooperation amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Asia.
Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley told his Japanese counterpart, Tomomi Inada, in Tokyo that his country hopes to pursue a strategic partnership with Japan for regional peace and stability.
Jaitley welcomed a planned trilateral naval exercise among the U.S., India and Japan in July as a way of strengthening cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.
Japan and India have been stepping up defense cooperation amid China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea and moves to establish a more permanent presence in the Indian Ocean. China regards Japan as a historical rival for dominance in northeast Asia and is embroiled in longstanding border disputes with India, with which it fought a brief but bloody frontier war in 1962.
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