|The latest installment in the potentially lethal geopolitical drama unfolded over the weekend, a day after the Pentagon issued its annual report to the U.S. Congress about how Beijing is assertively defending sovereignty claims across both the contested East China Sea and South China Sea. |
The report hit hard at China’s rapid military growth in the area.
The guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence, leads the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis
|The U.S. destroyer USS William P. Lawrence last week sailed by China's largest man-made island that challenges Beijing's vast claims in the South China Sea.|
The ship made "innocent passage" within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Fiery Cross Reef, the limit of what international law regards as an island's territorial sea. The reef, which used to be submerged at high tide for all but two rocks, is now an artificial island with a long airstrip, harbor and burgeoning above-ground infrastructure. It dwarfs all other features in the disputed area. China's Defense Ministry said it deployed two navy fighter jets, one early warning aircraft and three ships to track and warn off the vessel.
Chinese ships on exercise
|Central to China’s claims are its land-reclamation efforts that have seen tiny islets, reefs and other maritime features built into military facilities. The Pentagon report included dramatic photos of these contentious islands, including the Fiery Cross Reef Outpost, located between the Philippines and Vietnam.|
Since 2014, China has turned a sandy blip in the ocean into an island stretching more than two miles (three kilometers,) complete with a lengthy runway. At least 20 structures are visible on the southern side of the island, including a helipad.
|A United Nations arbitration court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks. The UN Permanent Court of Arbitration, which agreed to hear the case in October 2015, is expected to rule in favour of Manila.|
It is widely expected that China will ignore it.