Recent island building along with increased military activity in the South China Sea has aggravated territorial disputes with neighboring countries in the region, according to Michelle Mood, an assistant professor of political science at Kenyon College in Gambier.
Mood discussed China’s expansion in the highly trafficked South China Sea as part of a free Great Decisions community discussion series, an annual Delaware feature since the 1970s. Mood spoke at the William Street United Methodist Church downtown. Delaware.
In introductory remarks, Mood said she recently assisted a Kenyon student’s thesis, which focused on maritime issues in the South China Sea.
China claims a legitimate sphere of influence in waters and lands within a random U-shaped so-called “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea to ensure economic growth and to “recover lost past glory,” part of instilling national pride among Chinese people, according to Mood.
In addition to China, countries that also claim territorial rights within the “nine-dash line” include Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
China has committed $1 trillion to reestablish a 21st Century “silk trade route” on land and sea to reach European markets, according to PBS. The South China Sea falls along the envisioned maritime route.
Within the contested maritime zone are the Spratly islands, consisting of more than 400 atolls, shoals, reefs, banks, islands and cays, surrounded by a rich fishery. In recent years, China has built up some of the reefs as artificial islands as in the case of Fiery Cross Reef, Mood said.
Mood showed a photograph of Chinese commercial jet planes landing last year on an airstrip newly built on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, which the Chinese now call Yongshu.
BBC news reported Vietnam protested the landings as a violation of its sovereignty. The U.S. joined Vietnam in its protest as a show of support. China claimed its was conducting landings to see if “its most southern airport” met civilian-aviation standards, the BBC reported at the time.
Mood maintains because of a robust Chinese government propaganda campaign , there has been “created a huge chip on the shoulders of the Chinese” as China tries to regain international respect after centuries of ceded territory and past military defeats.
“It gets quite grim,” Mood told her audience, citing a Jan. 4 interview on CCTV by defense analyst Admiral Yin Zhuo explaining why China deployed surface-to-air missiles in the disputed area. The missiles were a deterrent to challenges to China’s professed sovereignty, the admiral said.
“China will never give up its core interest in the South China Sea,” Yin said in the CCTV interview. “We will maintain peace in the region for as long as it is needed. We will, however, fight back if our sovereignty to the islands are violated.”
Mood said she has concerns about President Trump’s newly revealed budget, which “guts soft power (diplomacy) and increases military power.”
“What worries me,” Mood said, “is China sees the U.S. as dominant and believes it is now China’s turn.”
The Great Discussion lecture series continues Friday, March 24 with a presentation on trade and poltics by Professor Ji Young Choi of Ohio Wesleyan University at noon at the United Methodist Church basement community room.