South China Sea dispute over Spratlys intensifies. graphic via CNN

South China Sea dispute over Spratlys intensifies.
graphic via CNN

In 2014, China began massive dredging operations centering on three main reefs in the Spratly Islands — Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reef. It has reclaimed 2,000 acres in less than two years — more than eight square kilometers, or around 90 football fields. [CNN]

COUNTRIES SURROUNDING the South China Sea are unhappy with China’s land reclamation, which has manifest artificial islands in the area. In response, the U.S.S. Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, was sent into the region, which brought protests from China directly to the U.S. ambassador.

“This can convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.” [The Guardian]

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have competing interests in this area, which has put pressure on President Obama to do something to stop China’s territorial expansion. It’s an area where $5 trillion of trade passes, according to Reuters.

In September, during his trip to Washington, President Xi Jinping said China wouldn’t “militarize” the islands but is building three airstrips that analysts believe will be able to accommodate bombers, according to satellite images analyzed by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). [CNN]

More from Reuters

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.

Pentagon officials say the United States regularly conducts freedom-of-navigation operations around the world to challenge excessive maritime claims. The U.S. Navy last went within 12 miles of Chinese-claimed territory in the Spratlys in 2012.

China traveled within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. controlled Aleutian Island about six weeks ago, the defense official said.

The USS Lassen patrol was carried out just weeks before a series of Asia-Pacific summits that Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping were expected to attend.