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Over recent months, both China and the US have increased their military presence in the highly contested region. Washington has urged other nations to counter against Beijing’s dominance after the Communist nation builds military bases on the atolls.
David Feith, deputy assistant secretary for regional and security policy and multilateral affairs at the US Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said Washington would expand the number of “shiprider” agreements to counter against China’s “aggressive behaviour”.
Mr Feith said: “In some areas, such as the Northern Pacific, stateless fishing vessels display characteristics of Chinese registration.
“In addition, China’s maritime militia – estimated to include more than 3,000 vessels – actively carries out aggressive behaviour on the high seas and in sovereign waters of other nations to coerce and intimidate legitimate fishers in support of the Chinese Communist Party’s long-term maritime strategic goals.”
Under the shiprider agreement, one country’s authorities are allowed to board law enforcement vessels or aircraft of another nation while on patrol.
However, several allies of the US who are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have grown wary over Washington’s move to police illegal fishing.
Gilang Kembara, researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Indonesia, warned Jakarta would not welcome a militaristic approach by the US.
He said: “I think it’s a good thing if the US offers Indonesia cooperation with their coastguard, since the IUU fishing is a criminal activity, so we need law enforcement to fight it.
“But if what they offer is cooperation with the US Navy, and this becomes a [military] issue… that approach is overblown because I don’t think IUU fishing is an existential threat to a nation.”
Jay L Batongbacal, director at the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and law of the Sea, said the Philippines would also not welcome a joint enforcement.
He added: “But [Manila] will probably be satisfied with information sharing on activities at sea, and for at least the last two to three years the government, especially the fisheries bureau, has actually taken advantage of information available from the US on foreign fishing activities in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ).”
The South China is a highly contested area with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim to parts of the archipelago.
Diplomatic relations between the nations, which have laid claim to the islands, are already extremely strained.
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China has recently constructed several military bunkers on some of the atolls, sparking fears of a World War 3 outbreak.
Back in July, the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued an alarming warning to Beijing and called for other nations to counter against China.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Pompeo said: “The United States’ policy is crystal clear: the South China Sea is not China’s maritime empire.
“If Beijing violates international law and free nations do nothing, history shows the CCP will simply take more territory.
“China Sea disputes must be resolved through international law.”
Tensions between the two nations have escalated over recent weeks with the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea.
Back in May, Independence-class US Navy littoral combat ships were spotted patrolling the much-disputed South China Sea.
The US Air Force and Marines conducted training exercises in the area with three submarines joining ships and aircraft in the nearby Philippine Sea.
The actions are thought to be a reaction to Chinese harassment of ships drilling for resources in nearby waters.
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