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The South China Sea is a heavily contested region where it faces rival ownership claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. But the US has extended its military power in the area.
China is believed to be rapidly increasing its preparations to defend the region should it perceive the US to overstretch its interventions in the region.
Last month, Independence-class US Navy littoral combat ships were spotted patrolling the much-disputed region.
The US Air Force and Marines were also seen conducting training exercises in the area with three submarines joining ships and aircraft in the nearby Philippine Sea.
The actions were thought to be a reaction to Chinese harassment of ships drilling for resources in nearby waters.
But Mark J Valencia, senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea studies, says the reason for the US military presence is to ensure its readiness in a number of contingencies.
In his column in the South China Morning Post, he said: “This is probably the real reason for the US military presence there – to maintain its regional hegemony.
“China believes the US wants to constrain its rightful rise and thereby continue its hegemony in the region.
“The South China Sea is at the cruz of their strategic contest.
“For China, it is a historically vulnerable underbelly that must be turned into a ‘natural shield for its national security’.
“It hosts its vital sea lanes of communication that Beijing believes the US could and would disrupt in a conflict.”
Mr Valencia went on to argue how the communist nation is not ready for armed conflict with the US and its allies.
But he warned Beijing is building up its capabilities to combat US intelligence and surveillance.
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He said: “Some of the hundreds of US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) probes in the South China Sea each year focus on detecting, tracking and, if necessary, targeting China’s nuclear submarines.
“Given what it perceives to be the growing US threat to its nuclear submarines, Beijing is building up capabilities on some of the features it occupies to neutralise these US operations and enhance the survivability of its nuclear submarines in the early stages of a conflict.”
Several nations including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have expressed concerns about the growing military presence in the area.
Mr Valencia believes the situation in South China Sea will only get worse before it gets better.
He finishes: “In the end, the US will have to directly or indirectly share power with China, and China will have to share the resources and their management.
“These are big asks, and it may take another generation and even localised conflict to realise that this is the only way for a stable and lasting peace to take hold in the South China Sea.”
Tensions in the area heightened over recent weeks after Taiwan deployed marines to the Pratas Islands amid reports China will conduct military drills in the area.
Japan’s Kyodo News reported last month how the People’s Liberation Army of China were scheduling large-scale beach landings on the Pratas Islands.
It is argued the landing trainings were to simulate the takeover of the region.
The Pratas Islands are considered to be a strategic crossroads for Beijing as Chinese warships would pass it when travelling to the Pacific.
China has also constructed bunkers on some of the atolls points in the area which sparks concerns about a potential conflict.
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