Amid expectations that the U.S. Navy will directly challenge Beijing’s demands for the South China Sea, China is working to create some serious images for its own military by hosting two international security forums this week.
The events begin on Friday with an informal meeting of the defense ministers of the 10-member ASEAN Association of Southeast Asian Nations — four of which will clash with Beijing’s own in the seas and islands in the South China Sea. This is the first time China has held such a meeting.
It will be followed by the Xiangson Forum, analysts around the world, military leaders and others who will fight the Asia-Pacific security, maritime issues and counter-terrorism.
Li Mingjiang, a regional security expert at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said: “China wants to use these forums to promote China’s views, explain China’s policies and enhance China’s security image. Includes buildings and airways in transparent efforts to increase demand.
An unnamed Pentagon official said last week that the U.S. Navy could soon get approval for a ship to sail within 12-nautical miles (21-kilometers) of regional territory around China’s man-made islands. Naval ASEAN member Philippines expressed support for such a move this week.
Traveling within a 12-mile (21-kilometer) border would directly challenge China’s regional claims since 2012 and strengthen Washington’s claim that land reclamation does not include sovereign territory.
Its allies, including the United States and the Philippines, insist that the newly formed islands are increasingly threatening stability in the militarized region.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Xiang said on Wednesday that the artificial islands were created for the public good and “had nothing to do with militarization.”
China has clashed with Vietnam, another ASEAN member, over the ownership of the Paracel Island group, leading to a week-long conflict last year when Beijing moved a large oil drilling site into disputed waters.
On Thursday, Vietnam accused China of sinking one of its fishing boats near the disputed islands. The incident was triggered by a desire to steal the ship’s fish and steal it from the commission. Although Beijing’s aggressive actions are believed to encourage Chinese fishermen in the area, there is no immediate evidence that any Chinese government vessels were involved.
China’s Defense Ministry says ASEAN meeting in Beijing “to promote strategic confidence and practical cooperation”. A spokesman said Chinese Defense Minister General Chang Wanquan would hold talks with his colleagues and visit military units.
Li, a regional security expert, said China felt its security ties with its neighbors were weak and wanted to renew its appearance. Li said the talks would focus on non-traditional security cooperation, military exchanges and regional security, avoiding controversial issues.
“Since this meeting is in Beijing, it will be difficult for any country to face China in the South China Sea,” Li said. “There is a lack of unity among ASEAN countries on this issue.”
China last year expanded the scope of the Xiangsun Forum, which is more than just an annual event, increasing the participation of more than 300 security officials and academics from 47 countries.
With the world’s second-largest defense budget, China’s military — especially its navy — is amassing mighty capabilities.
It will soon stabilize its first aircraft carrier and rapidly add sophisticated destroyer, missile and nuclear submarines. A massive military parade in Beijing last month showcased new missiles that would allow China to reach targets – including US naval vessels and bases across the region.
China claims almost all the archipelago in the South China Sea and important sea lanes, fights with Japan for chain ownership of the uninhabited islands north of Taiwan, and declared a theoretical control zone in late 2013. Air travel over much of the East China Sea. Many analysts believe that China is now considering declaring a similar zone in the South China Sea.
To alleviate such concerns, US Defense Department analyst Kim Fossler wrote in a recent study that China should turn meetings like the Xiangson Forum into places for “real bilateral dialogue” rather than trying to impose its own views. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
This includes Fassler writing, “urging Beijing to explore how its actions contribute to China’s stories of occupation instead of a regional leader.”