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.
PHILIPPINE ACTIVISTS STAGE ANTI-CHINA PROTEST
Flag-waving protesters in the Philippines converged at a Chinese consulate in the capital, Manila, to protest China’s assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea.
Saturday’s protest involving more than 100 left-wing activists ended in a melee between demonstrators and the authorities, with police using a water hose and their shields.
The farmers and workers belonging to the militant Bayan group burned signs showing the U.S. and Chinese flags during the action, which included a demonstration outside the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy to protest alleged U.S. meddling in the Philippines.
While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to boost relations with Beijing in return for aid and investment, the two countries continue to hold differences over the rights to islands, shoals and fishing grounds in the South China Sea.
CIA OFFICIAL WARNS OF CHINESE SOUTH CHINA SEA MOVES
A top CIA expert on Asia says China’s construction of military outposts on islands in the South China Sea is comparable to Russia’s brash annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Michael Collins said Friday that China’s actions had turned the strategic waterway into the “Crimea of the East.” Moscow’s 2014 move to forcefully take over the Ukrainian territory was widely condemned by the West.
Collins, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia mission center, said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that Beijing doesn’t want to go to war.
However, he said the current government under Communist Party leader and President Xi Jinping is subtly working on multiple fronts to undermine the U.S. in ways that are different than the more well-publicized activities being employed by Russia.
“I would argue … that what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war — a cold war not like we saw during the Cold War (between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) but a cold war by definition,” Collins said.
VIETNAM DEPORTS U.S. MAN AFTER ANTI-CHINA PROTEST
A Vietnamese court ordered an American man deported after convicting him of disturbing public order for taking part in a rare protest against perceived concessions to China.
William Nguyen, from Houston, was arrested June 10 during protests in the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City against a proposed law on special economic zones that many say would benefit Chinese investors.
A court official said that Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, admitted to the violation and showed remorse, which resulted in a lenient sentence. He had faced up to seven years in prison.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted later Friday that he was “tremendously pleased” Nguyen would be returning home to his family.
Six Vietnamese have been sentenced to up to 2 1/2 years in prison for the protest and more are awaiting trial.
The protest was one of several in the country concerning three special economic zones, where according to proposed legislation, land could be rented for up to 99 years. The passage of the law was postponed to allow more research.
Mistrust of China runs deep in Vietnam, one of the most outspoken critics of Chinese construction and militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea’s disputed waters. Anti-Chinese riots in 2014 left four people dead and more than 100 injured.
Associated Press writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report from Aspen, Colorado.