Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

FILE - This May 11, 2015, file photo, shows land reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China has reportedly depl...
FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2019, file photo, Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung, left, attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang ...

FILE - This May 11, 2015, file photo, shows land reclamation of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. China has reportedly depl...

FILE - In this Nov. 27, 2019, file photo, Vietnam's Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung, left, attends a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang ...

BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

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CHINA REPORTEDLY DEPLOYS SURVEILLANCE AIRSHIP TO REEF

China has reportedly deployed a Zeppelin-like airship to Mischief Reef in the South China Sea.

The aircraft, technically known as an aerostat, appears to be intended to boost China’s reconnaissance capabilities in the hotly disputed Spratly Islands, according to a Nov. 24 tweet by Imagesat International.

“For the first time, #China's aerostat, probably for #military #intelligence-gathering purposes, seen by #ISI at #Mischief Reef. The use of #aerostat allows China a continuous situational awareness in this resource-rich region,” said the tweet by the company, which provides satellite information to intelligence and defense customers.

The aerostat adds to ground- and ship-based radar and reconnaissance flights by China to monitor and seek to control military activity in the area by other countries, especially the United States.

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SCHOLAR: US-CHINA RIVALRY TO INTENSIFY IN 2020

A leading scholar on China-U.S. relations writes that the China-U.S. competition for Asian supremacy will ratchet up significantly next year, with the South China Sea being a key flashpoint.

Oriana Skylar Mastro wrote in The Economist magazine that China could establish more outposts on the Spratlys and “occupy” Scarborough Shoal with an unmanned drone. The shoal, which the Philippines claims, has been marked as a red line by the U.S. due to its proximity to the Philippine capital, Manila, and U.S. military assets.

China could also boost the military capabilities of its island holdings in the Spratlys along with the Paracel island group, or “declare greater restrictions over other countries’ freedom of navigation,” wrote Mastro, a Georgetown University professor and scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

In response, the U.S. will have to show greater fortitude and demand more of the other five countries that claim territory in the South China Sea, she wrote.

“Both China and America will be willing to take greater risks to gain advantage. It is only a matter of time before this security competition in the South China Sea spills over into a crisis,” Mastro wrote.

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CHINA, VIETNAM SEEK TO MEND RELATIONS

Leading diplomats from Vietnam and China sought to patch up relations after a new round of tensions over China’s oil exploration activities in waters claimed by Hanoi.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Hoai Trung, who heads Vietnam’s border talks with China, met with his Chinese counterpart, Luo Zhaohui, last week to discuss recent issues, according to Chinese and Vietnamese news reports.

While most land border issues have been settled, talks on maritime claims are ongoing, the official Viet Nam News newspaper reported Friday.

China-Vietnam frictions over oil exploration rose again this fall over the presence of a Chinese research vessel in the area of Vanguard Reef in the Spratly Island chain, which is claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Those tensions spiked in 2014, when ships from the sides engaged in skirmishes in the area around the Paracel Islands, which China seized by force in 1974.