Threat of a trade war may have just given way to a full-blown conflict between the United States and China over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
The U.S. has warned China of consequences arising out of reports that it has militarized islands in the South China Sea over which it has no legal jurisdiction. Reports which include satellite photos show China moving missiles and other weapons into the region.
Satellite photos showed that China may have installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three islands of the Spratlys.
The Spratly Islands are located in the Western Philippine Sea. Both the Philippines and China were embroiled in contentious discussions over jurisdiction on the islands.
The Philippines filed a complaint with the United Nations which eventually junked China’s “historical” claim. The UN ruled in favour of the Philippines in its 2016 ruling.
China junked the ruling and continued to build on the Spratly Islands apparently with the approval of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who himself chose to set aside the UN decision.
The warning comes after complaint filed by the United States to Beijing over allegations it tried to blind U.S. pilots who were flying over the Horn of Africa.
Sarah Huckabee-Sanders informed reporters during a press conference that Washington was getting concerned about China’s growing military presence in the South China Sea:
“We’ve raised concerns directly with the Chinese about this and there will be near-term and long-term consequences.”
In its response, China did not confirm nor deny the reports. A spokesperson from Beijing simply responded that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratlys and that any act of militarization is intended to “safeguard China’s sovereignty and security.”
The waters of the South China Sea are vital for shipping. It is also believed that it is rich in oil and natural gas resources.
Amidst the growing tension, President Duterte lashed out at his predecessor Benigno S. Aquino III for failing to implement the ruling. However, the ruling of the UN was released on July 2016 when Duterte was already Philippine President.