I. The Big Story: China’s Hardening Posture in the Neighbourhood?
There have been multiple incidents around China’s periphery in the last three months or more, indicating China’s hardening of posture in the neighbourhood.
Let’s first recap all the incidents:
– In mid-December 2019, the standoff began between Indonesia and China when a Chinese coast guard/maritime militia vessel accompanied Chinese fishing boats in the waters of the Natuna Islands.
– Around mid-January, before the Chinese New Year, a group of H-6 bombers flew close to the southern tip of Taiwan. The formation included a KJ-500 early warning aircraft and H-6 bombers. They passed through the Bashi Channel near Taiwan’s Orchid Island towards the western Pacific Ocean.
– In the last week of January, the USS Montgomery sailed 8.5 miles from Chinese occupied Fiery Cross Reef, China’s one of the many artificial islands in the South China Sea (SCS). The warship also sailed close to Johnson South Reef.
– In the second week of February, J-11 fighter jets, at least four H-6 bombers and a KJ-500 early warning aircraft flew through the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait- off the east coast of Taiwan- before returning to their bases.
– A similar incident happened the next day, when mainland warplanes, including the H-6 bombers, crossed the median line. This time, Taiwan sent two warplanes to intercept the Chinese mainland jets. The US military also flew its three air force planes including the two MC-130J surveillance planes over Taiwan.
– On February 17, a Chinese destroyer pointed a laser at American maritime patrol aircraft over the western Pacific Ocean. The destroyer targeted the P-8A Poseidon aircraft as it flew over international waters about 610km (380 miles) west of Guam.
– Taipei claimed that China conducted a night-time training exercise over the sea west-ward of Taiwan. The exercise included a KJ-500 early warning aircraft and J-11 fighter jets.
– On March 20, China conducted an anti-submarine drill over the South China Sea. China also launched two research outposts in the Western Philippine Sea, on an artificial island claimed by the Philippines in the same week.
– Meanwhile, the US conducted an unusual drill in the Philippine Sea. The guided-missile destroyer, USS Barry, launched a medium-range Standard Missile-2 signalling China that American forces can counter advanced threats.
– Taiwan followed with a large-scale military drill throughout the island, including an exercise to repel an invading force.
– Elsewhere in the East China Sea, China’s fishing boat collided with a Japanese destroyer on March 30. The crash opened a hole of more than a metre’s length in Japanese destroyer.
– In the same week, Vietnam claimed that a Chinese vessel hit a Vietnamese fishing boat near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. In a rare criticism, the Philippines called-out China for the sinking of a Vietnamese vessel, claiming it a “provocative” act that undermines peace and security in the disputed waters.