US-China tensions in the South China Sea explained
The South China Sea has become the latest flashpoint threatening to sour relations between Washington and Beijing.
WASHINGTON D.C. / BEIJING — A dangerously close encounter in disputed waters has become the latest flashpoint in worsening Sino-American relations.
The South China Morning Post reports that on September 30, the USS Decatur was sailing near China-claimed Gaven Reef in the South China Sea's Spratly Islands when it was approached by a Chinese ship.
The PRC destroyer Luyang reportedly came within 45 yards of the American vessel's bow, prompting it to maneuver to prevent a collision.
The South China Sea has long been a site of conflict, not just for the U.S. and China, but for many countries in the region, whose overlapping claims on disputed waters are based on their Exclusive Economic Zones. In contrast, China purports to own 90% of the South China Sea based on historic rights, using a nebulous "9-dash line" to back its territorial claim.
As a way to legitimize and safeguard their alleged territory, the Chinese have built up and fortified artificial islands in the Spratlys, effectively creating a network of military bases.
Though the U.S. has no stake in the disputed waters, it has repeatedly challenged China's maritime claims through freedom of navigation operations, resulting in several altercations over the years.
American and Japanese ships held joint military exercises in the contested region as recently as September. Weeks later, U.S. bombers flew through the area twice in three days.
China typically condemns these maneuvers and often responds with air and naval drills showcasing their own military might.
Following the USS Decatur incident, a U.S. Navy proposal suggests a large military exercise in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait as a global show of force to warn China, reports CNN.
The conflict comes amidst a brewing trade war between the two nations, with the U.S. imposing tariffs on imported Chinese goods, and China retaliating by doing the same.
Vice President Mike Pence further fanned the flames after complimenting Taiwan's democratic stance and recommending that Beijing take a page from their book.
China is especially sensitive about Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province, and has consistently slammed any efforts to support the island's sovereignty.
Analysts say escalating tensions between the world's two largest superpowers are likely to persist, reports the Economic Times, but it's unclear whether they may get resolved somewhere down the line or lead to a global-scale conflict.
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