Further to these posts,
the latest at Foreign Policy’s “Situation Report”:
Sailing on. The guided missile destroyer the USS William P. Lawrence sailed within 12 nautical miles of Chinese-occupied Fiery Cross Reef on Tuesday, in another of a handful of recent freedom of navigation exercises meant to symbolically challenge Chinese claims to small, artificial islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing built the 700-acre artificial island, along with a 10,000-ft. runway, over the past year. That runway recently landed a Chinese warplane sent to pick up sick workers and bring them to the mainland, and the op comes just after a visit by Gen. Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, who became the most senior Chinese officer to visit one of China’s artificial islands. China also recently dispatched a popular military folk singer to entertain troops stationed on the island, for what it’s worth.
Not the first, not the last. In January, the Pentagon dispatched the USS Curtis Wilbur to cruise within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands, and back in October, the USS Lassen did the same to several contested rocks in the Spratlys.
Pentagon spokesman U.S. Navy Cmdr. Bill Urban said in a statement that the operation “challenged attempts by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam to restrict navigation rights around the features they claim, specifically that these three claimants purport to require prior permission or notification of transits through the territorial sea, contrary to international law.”
Word coming. By this summer, an international tribunal in The Hague is expected to rule for the first time on the validity of China’s territorial claims as it tries to fence off nearly the entire South China Sea for itself. FP’s Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson took a hard look at the issues earlier this year, noting the deployment of long-range, surface-to-air missiles to Woody Island has only underscored the importance of the pending court decision. Experts believe the tribunal likely will rule in favor of the Philippines, which brought the suit against Beijing, but no one is sure who will actually enforce it, or how.
Making friends, selling guns. The most recent passby by the Lawrence comes just before President Barack Obama is slated to land in Vietnam, where he’s expected to lift a ban on arms sales to the communist country. But human rights groups and some members of Congress are unhappy with the possibility, FP’s Dan De Luce and Keith Johnson tell us. And China isn’t too pleased, either, as it wages a series of highly-volatile disputes with Hanoi over islands in the South China Sea.
It’s complicated. “The step would carry crucial symbolism in the growing contest for influence between China and the United States in the Western Pacific,” FP’s duo writes. Yet the country’s human rights record is abysmal, and State Department officials have been pressing the country to free some political prisoners by time Obama touches down [from July 2015: “The US and Vietnam: Containing China Together? A Visit to Washington“]…
Meanwhile the Philippines have elected a really wild-card president. And there’s an important question about the US and the region: