Shooting at Union Banks Underscores Need for Code of Conduct

In what might be an event soon forgotten by the international community, China’s paramilitary forces once again demonstrated their willingness to use force to intimidate other countries and risk escalation. Although the specifics of the incident remain sketchy, reports indicate that on March 27 a speedboat, presumably operated by the China Coast Guard, fired seven times upon the unarmed Princess Johann, a Filipino fishing trawler, while the vessel was operating near Union Banks in the Spratly Islands, which is near Gaven Reef - one of China’s newly built artificial islands. It is unknown whether the incident occurred within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, international waters, or the territorial sea of a disputed feature. What is clear, however, is that incidents akin to what occurred at Union Banks could undermine the recent warming of relations between China and the Philippines, and underscore the need for a binding Code of Conduct (COC) for the South China Sea.

Seeing the Forest through the SAMs on Woody Island

The recent deployment of Chinese surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to Woody Island is a notable tactical development, but a far more significant strategic signal. Tactically, the HQ-9 batteries deployed to Woody Island could target aircraft at ranges up to 125 miles (200 kilometers), covering much of the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam and […]

The U.S. Asserts Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea

After months of internal debate within the Obama administration, the guided missile destroyer USS Lassentransited within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, one of China’s artificially-built features in the South China Sea, on October 27 in what is termed a “freedom of navigation” (FON) operation. It was accompanied by two maritime surveillance aircraft, a P-8A […]

China’s Maritime Rights Protection Leading Small Group—Shrouded in Secrecy

  Foreign policy decisionmaking in China has always been opaque, but under Chinese Communist Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping, it has become even more cryptic. The strongest leader to come to power in more than two decades, Xi has concentrated power in his own hands and rarely vets foreign policy initiatives with the […]

Beijing’s Assurances Unpersuasive: A COC Can’t Wait

At regional meetings in Kuala Lumpur this week, China attempted to reassure regional nations of its peaceful intentions and deflect attention from its destabilizing activities in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea. Speaking to reporters, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Beijing had halted dredging sand to build artificial islands. “China […]

China’s Land Reclamation Announcement: A Change in Message, Not in Policy

Q1: What has China announced about its land reclamation activities in the Spratly Islands? A1: On June 16, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang announced that “as planned, the land reclamation project of China’s construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Nansha (Spratly) Islands will be completed in the upcoming days.” He noted […]