11:58 GMT21 January 2021
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    China has significantly expanded its presence in the disputed South China Sea, according to a new government report. Beijing has enhanced its military presence on its manmade islands, at the same time increasing their territory. Radio Sputnik discussed the development with professor Jay Batongbacal.

    What do you make of China’s position on this situation?

    This is just a continuation of what it has embarked on over the past couple of years. It’s really to establish full blown bases literally in the South China Sea. These areas used to be just small parts where they only had a few buildings but now they completely expanded to hundreds of times their original size … now they are really completing their plans of establishing full blown facilities there. 

    China has not occupied or fortified any new territories in the South China Sea; moreover it is not the only government conducting activities in the region, so why is Washington hyping the move?

    The United States is concerned because these that China has established these islands on – these used to be just small islets, they did not represent any kind of threat to either commercial or military shipping through the area but had established facilities that could pose any kind of threat to any shipping passage through the region. 

    READ MORE: China Ramps Up South China Sea Presence Achieving 'Striking Results' — Reports

    But now with China’s innovations and establishment of these artificial islands and the kinds of facilities that they are installing, for the United States feels threatened already by this because this time the weapons that are being installed there and air strips, all sorts of other things that are being placed on these islands are nothing that have ever been seen before in this area in the past years, so that’s why now the US feels that it is a real threat basically for the freedom of navigation and military mobility through the area.

    The relationship between China and other South Sea countries has calmed down in recent years – why is Washington attempting to escalate tensions in the region?

    Really with respect to the smaller countries in the region it will always be a concern because what they are seeing now and what they are feeling in the region and the South China Sea will become a simple arena for strategic competition between China and the United States. Now while we may see that it is inevitable between these two superpowers the fact is that it is going to take place within this area, within their resource areas and as smaller countries they believe that if these two major powers get into a really sharp competition there is a feeling that there might be the collateral damage, basically to that competition and that is why it could raise the concern, whether the military is on the part of China or on the part on the United States it will always be a problem for the smaller countries.

    Since the beginning of 2017, China has built 290,000 square meters (29 hectares) of facilities, including underground storage tanks, administrative buildings and large radar installations on the Spratly and Paracel reefs in the South China Sea, according to Haiwainet website under the People's Daily newspaper.

    Claims on the South China Sea's waters are contested by neighboring Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

    Jay Batongbacal is an associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Law and the director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, University of the Philippines.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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