South China Sea Erupts In New Tensions As John Kerry’s Bid To Calm Waters Goes Stale

The South China Sea is seeing turbulence again, as China looks for a way to navigate nuclear submarines in disputed waters amid a U.S. presence in the area. The Washington Post reports that China claims the South China Sea is native territory, despite the mutual claims of five neighboring countries. Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam are more welcoming of a U.S. presence, if only as a deterrent to aggression in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Chinese leaders during a trip which ended on Sunday, before heading to other Asian nations. He raised issue with the controversial construction projects China is now conducting in the Sea. AP reports that member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are alarmed by the projects.

Claims over who owns the Sea have been more of an issue of power politics. The surrounding countries don’t quite have the size or military power that China does, so the military presence and construction is a visible threat to any challengers.

Kerry met privately with Chinese officials to discuss the matter in a bid to ease tensions in the region. The Huffington Post hinted at the United States’ position on the matter.

“Obama administration officials have declined to comment on reports that it may deploy military assets, or that it is considering a demonstration of freedom of navigation within 12 nautical miles of the islands’ notional territorial zone. But they have said many of the features claimed by China in the disputed Spratlys are submerged and do not carry territorial rights, and maintained that China cannot ‘manufacture sovereignty’ with its reclamation projects…”

China claims the issue is only in regard to what it sees as China’s territory. China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, and refuses to acknowledge claims by neighboring countries. The reef-building construction is seen as a bold new effort to assert control.

Kerry is urging China towards further diplomacy with ASEAN, and not to simply place more military might in the area. AP reported how Chinese Foreign Spokesman Wang Yi has remained adamant and inflexible in his view of the matter.

“The determination of the Chinese side to safeguard our own sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock, and it is unshakable.”

The South China Sea is an extremely busy shipping port. Artificial reefs could potentially be put to use as military bases. The U.S. and its Southeast Asian allies are seeking further dialogue in South China Sea discussions.

[Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images]