South China Sea tinderbox: Beijing flexes muscles in major warning to rivals

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The sea has been at the centre of conflict between nations for centuries, with tensions escalating in recent years. While Beijing’s rivals including Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei all lay claims to the troubled waters, the Chinese operate from a unique position of strength.

The Economic Times, a Mumbai-based newspaper, has warned: “The South China Sea has been a bargaining chip in China’s pocket since the beginning of its rise in the global order.

“Here, Beijing operates from a position of strength, with physical control over critical islands.

“Possession of these gives Beijing a clear upper hand and the ability to exert strategic authority over these waters, regardless of the rights and interests of other neighbouring nations.”

China has in recent years significantly expanded its island-building projects in the South China Sea.

And it has increased the amount of naval patrols it conducts through the waters.

Its actions have irked rival countries who are all vying for a piece of the energy-rich sea.

The ocean has proven oil reserves of around 7.7 billion barrels.

However, analysts estimate it could have about 28 billion barrels of oil.

It is also home to expansive natural gas reserves – an estimated 266 trillion cubic feet.

The South China Sea also serves as one of the world’s major shipping routes.

Vessels carrying about £2.4 trillion in trade sail through the waters each year.

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About one-third of the world’s shipping uses the route annually.

This week Beijing warned of “countermeasures” as the United States deployed three aircraft carriers into the Pacific.

The sudden move comes amid rising tensions between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus pandemic.

The two world powers have also clashed over the issue of Taiwan.

The US Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and the USS Nimitz to the region.

Each ship contains more than 60 aircraft.

The deployment angered the Chinese Government, as it steps up its own military presence in the region.

The US said its move was to help prevent the possible outbreak of another COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

But experts say it was likely intended to be a show of strength to the Chinese.

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