The South China Sea being militarized by China has become a more complicated scenario, as the United States banks on China to stop North Korea’s nuclear tests. The U.S. failure to make Pyongyang cease and desist with its nuclear ambition is seen by pundits as having emboldened China, through its spokesperson, to tell the U.S. to stop “hyping up” the South China Sea issue.
According to International Business Times, Beijing is widely regarded as North Korea’s diplomatic and economic protector. Although China has criticized Pongyang’s nuclear tests, experts describe Beijing’s babble as not much different from the lip service it gave Washington about not militarizing the South China Sea.
While South China Sea matters were being debated, North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen-type bomb underground in its fourth nuclear detonation on January 6, 2016, approximately 30 miles northwest of Kilju City. On February 7, North Korea launched a satellite into space, using ballistic missile technology capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.
Meanwhile, China announced its first-ever landing on January 2 on the new airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. The Diplomat reports that the over 3,000 meter-long runway at Fiery Cross Reef is large enough for any Chinese military aircraft, from long-range bombers to fighter jets.
Then came satellite images shot on February 14, revealing two batteries of eight missile launchers and a radar system on Chinese-occupied Woody Island in the South China Sea’s Paracel chain. As affected Taiwan and Vietnam protested, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the reports a Western media invention.
Much speculation is growing over the events in North Korea and the South China Sea, their timing in relation to each other creating online buzz. Whether the two narratives are coincidental or conspiratorial is subject to debate.
In an International Business Times report, South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced in Seoul, on January 13, that China should play a “necessary role” in implementing strong sanctions against Pyongyang.” She stressed the importance of China to realize it cannot keep North Korea from conducting “a fifth or sixth nuclear test” until China’s commitment translates into action.
At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pointed out that Chinese President Xi Jinping on his state visit to Washington September 24-25, 2015, assured U.S. President Barack Obama there would be no militarization of the South China Sea. According to the Standard, Kerry now sees evidence of militarization as contradicting that public assurance from President Xi when he stood in the Rose Garden with President Obama.
According to the Guardian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying has said that China’s South China Sea military deployments are no different from U.S. deployments in Hawaii. Hua struck a combative tone when asked if the missile launchers on Woody Island in the South China Sea would come up at the Tuesday, February 23 consultation between Wang and Kerry in the U.S. Hua insisted that Washington should not use the reports of military facilities on the islands as a “pretext to make a fuss.”
Aside from the unsettled South China Sea issues, the U.S. is trying to get China’s agreement on the best way to censure Pyongyang for North Korea’s latest nuclear test and rocket launch. While China has added its voice to the international criticism, it has distanced itself from the kind of tough economic sanctions the U.S. seeks against Beijing’s neighbor and traditional ally.
According to U.S. News, Kerry and Wang are slated on Tuesday to hammer out a compromise over a U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea, and settle differences over the South China Sea, both situations creating a tremendous strain between the U.S. and China.
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