String of Pearls (China) - Facilities and Relationships - South China Sea

South China Sea

The critical sea lines of communication that connect China to Middle Eastern oil-producing states transverse the South China Sea, making it a key strategic region, and potential trouble spot, for the Chinese government. Chinese naval vessels heavily patrol South China Sea waters, and conflicting territorial claims in the region have periodically erupted in naval confrontations. Chinese efforts to control the South China Sea have therefore figured significantly in speculations about the wider ambitions of the Chinese central government in the construction of a power projection chain across Asia.

The central government’s efforts to exercise greater control in the region began in earnest after the power vacuum created by the withdrawal of US forces from the Philippines in 1991. Although skirmishes with neighboring powers, most notably with Vietnam during the Sino-Vietnamese War of 1979, have been a fixture of post-war Chinese foreign relations, the Chinese government began aggressively asserting its territorial claims in the region only within the last two decades. Interest in the region has historically extended to the rich fishing and mineral resources known to exist there. However, islets in the regions can also be used as air and sea bases for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities, as well as base points for Chinese ballistic missile submarines and potential aircraft carrier battle groups.

The Chinese naval base on Hainan Island is generally considered the first of the pearls or potential pearls. Recent construction of an underwater submarine base on Hainan, in addition to the sprawling facilities already located there, seems to further confirm the perceived importance of Hainan as a base of control for China’s claims in the South China Sea. Woody Island, the largest of the Paracel Islands, hosts an upgraded Chinese airstrip and has also been identified as a pearl. Sansha, the prefectural-level city established on Woody Island, maintains a division-level garrison that also oversees Chinese claims in the Spratly Islands, extending a small but permanent military presence across Chinese claims in the South China Sea. A $20 billion Chinese proposal to fund the construction of a canal across the Kra Isthmus, which would allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca altogether, has also broached concerns of a Chinese-controlled corridor linking Chinese ports and facilities elsewhere in the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

Read more about this topic:  String Of Pearls (China), Facilities and Relationships

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