Maritime Conflict Widens in South China Sea with Joint US-India Patrols

The prospect of a joint naval patrol between India and the United States in the South China Sea is likely to ruffle Beijing’s feathers, which claims most of the water body.

In response to Beijing’s construction of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago, Washington seems keen to take a belligerent claim over the South China Sea.

Reports point out that China is building a series of airplane landing strips in the Spratly Islands to bolster its surveillance capabilities and control the maritime activities in the region, although Beijing claims the buildup is for civilian benefits.

The construction of islands triggered protests and territorial claims by neighboring countries over Beijing’s rising maritime hegemony.

The Spratly islands skirt the coastlines of Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and China. Reportedly, Philippines and Taiwan claim the Spratly Islands, while Vietnam and the Philippines claim maritime right over part of the Paracel Islands.

Reuters quoted a US defense official on condition of anonymity.

The patrols would likely be in the Indian Ocean where the Indian navy is a major player as well as the South China Sea.

The Indian media is yet to confirm the details.

China and India are competing economic markets and the news of a joint patrol in Chinese territories could raise the specter of maritime tensions between the two neighbors. Reportedly, South China Sea has massive reserves of oil and gas, therefore the rush to claim the pie.

RT News explained the significance of South China Sea.

The Spratly Isles comprise over 750 reefs, atolls and islands, and lie at the heart of economically important shipping lanes in the South China Sea. The archipelago boasts rich fishing grounds, among other things.

Military and diplomatic ties between India and the United States got a fresh boost following President Barack Obama’s trip to India. Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to improve maritime cooperation.

The joint petrol in South China Sea is the result of growing ties between the two nations. It is pertinent to note that this is the first joint patrol between India and the United States beyond the bounds of the Indian Ocean.

India has an unresolved land-border dispute with China, and India’s naval presence far beyond the Indian Ocean is likely to raise eyebrows in Beijing.

Maritime tension between China and Washington surfaced late January following the entry of a US Navy destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur, within 12 nautical miles of the disputed Paracel Chain in the South China Sea.

Foreign Affairs noted.

The Wilbur operation was meant to protest Chinese maritime claims that the United States and a number of Southeast Asian states consider excessive.

In response to the Wilbur exercise, China increased its propaganda efforts to stake claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, with Chinese media clamoring for more control over its maritime expanse in South China.

According to Reuters, “Neither India nor the United States has claims to the South China Sea, but both said they backed freedom of navigation and overflight in the waterway.”

By all appearances, the soft, joint patrols between India and the United States in the maritime confines of South China shows signs of an aggressive United States with a message to win regional support. The purpose of the latest naval exercise looks much clearer.

With powerful stakeholders — India, China, and the US — gambling over maritime resources and territories, it is to be seen if conflicting and overlapping claims would be resolved amicably thorough negotiations.

What seems probable is an increased military spending by the competing powers to increase their naval presence and the prospect of peaceful South-China negotiations seems unlikely, at least for now.

[Photo by China Photos /Getty Images]