US Republican Senator and Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), Senator James Inhofe, has liked China’s build up in the South China Sea to “preparing for World War 3”.
Speaking during a SASC hearing discussing the threat posed by new Chinese and Russian military capabilities, Senator Inhofe expressed concern about the build-up and how China’s reclamation of coral and sand atolls and the construction of bases in international waters will affect other nations in the Indo-Pacific region.
“It’s like you’re preparing for World War 3. You’re talking to our allies over there and you wonder whose side they’re going to be on,” he said, adding that he felt the threat posed by the installations was an urgent one. “I’m concerned our message is not getting across,” he added. “There’s this euphoric attitude people have had since World War II that somehow we have the best of everything.”
In the past five years China has built a number of major air and naval bases in the South China Sea, and has claimed the maritime domains inside what it calls the “nine-dash line” as its own. But in 2016 the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has “no historical rights” to the region, despite Chian being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Since the ruling, China has continued to bolster the defensive and offensive nature of the installations, frequently deploying long range air defence systems, fighter and bomber sorties, and naval operations from and around the islands, and declaring a 12 nautical mile exclusion zone.