BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
CHINA OPENS MOVIE THEATER ON DISPUTED ISLAND
China has opened a state-of-the-art movie theater on disputed Woody Island in the South China Sea’s Paracel group in an effort to improve quality of life for the roughly 200 civilians and military personnel on the tiny landmass.
The Yinlong Cinema that opened Saturday is China’s southernmost permanent standing movie house, according to Chinese media reports. It’s the latest in a series of measures aimed at establishing a more concrete presence in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.
The chairman of the Hainan Media Group, Gu Shaoqing, was quoted in media reports as saying the Yinlong, or “Silver Dragon,” would show at least one feature daily.
“In this way, island residents can enjoy the same cinema service enjoyed by people in other parts of China,” Gu was quoted as saying.
The theater can show movies in 3-D and its equipment is portable, allowing it to be transported to other nearby islands as needed.
Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the 2.6-square kilometer (1-square mile) island, known as Yongxingdao in Chinese, the largest in the Paracel group, which lies to the north of the even more hotly contested Spratly chain.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Stethem sailed within 12 nautical miles (32 kilometers) of Triton Island in the Paracel Group in an operation affirming the right to passage and challenging what the U.S. considers China’s excessive territorial claims in the area. China accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters and sent ships to intercept the destroyer.
AUSTRALIA OPPOSES CHINA’S ISLAND-MAKING PROJECT
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said during a visit to India that her country continues to oppose China’s efforts to reclaim and develop man-made islands in the South China Sea.
However, in her speech Tuesday to a forum in New Delhi, Bishop appeared to discourage direct confrontation.
“Our objective must be to encourage China to exercise its economic and strategic weight in a way that respects the sovereign equality of states, that upholds and strengthens the rules-based order and that benefits all countries and peoples,” Bishop said.
She urged the six governments that claim territory in the strategically vital waterway to respect international laws and dispute resolution mechanisms, especially the United Nation’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, using them to “guide behavior and resolve disputes.”
“This is how countries in our region need to resolve disputes, including in the South China Sea, and we continue to oppose the construction of artificial reefs and militarization of those structures in the South China Sea,” Bishop said.
Australia is a close U.S. ally and backed Washington in its use of freedom of navigation operations and other measures to challenge Beijing’s attempts to dominate the waterway through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade passes annually.
China has denounced U.S. alliances in Asia as outdated vestiges of the Cold War, and in 2013, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lit into Bishop at a meeting over Australia’s backing of Washington’s criticism of China’s attempts to assert control over a huge chunk of airspace over the East China Sea.
China’s island-building campaign has been seen by some as a precursor to a similar Chinese move in the South China Sea, although Beijing says it will proceed based on need and perceived threats to its interests.