Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

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BEIJING (AP) — 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. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.



Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives in China on Wednesday for a visit that will include meetings with top Chinese officials over the South China Sea and attendance at a world basketball championship game.

Duterte's visit will be his fifth to China but the first during which he plans to finally raise the result of the 2016 Hague arbitration case that mostly invalidated China's claim to virtually the entire South China Sea under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Duterte has long been criticized by nationalists and left-wing groups for not immediately demanding Chinese compliance with the ruling as he seeks warmer ties with Beijing.

China refused to participate in the arbitration case and has ignored the resulting ruling.

Calls have risen in recent weeks for Duterte to take a harder line with Beijing over matters such as the activities of Chinese research vessels and warships in what the Philippines claims as its waters.



Australia, Vietnam and the U.S. have expressed serious concern over actions by China's gas survey ship they say have infringed on Vietnamese territory and disrupted Vietnam's exploration activities.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison met in Hanoi with his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and both leaders called for respect of international law and freedom of navigation.

Earlier the United States said it was deeply concerned that China is continuing to interfere with Vietnam's long-standing oil and gas activities in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone. China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has deployed a survey vessel with armed escorts into waters off Vietnam, ignoring Hanoi's calls to leave the area.

China has rattled smaller neighbors by constructing seven man-made islands in the disputed waters and equipped them with military runways and outposts.

In Beijing on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang did not directly address the U.S. accusations but said China opposed what he described as a U.S. campaign aimed at division.

"This is to drive a wedge between China and other countries and it is ill-intentioned," Geng said. "The aim is to create chaos in the situation in the South China Sea and damage regional peace and stability. China firmly opposes this."



The U.S. Navy began joint training last week with maritime forces from 10 Indo-Pacific partner nations aimed at countering illegal smuggling and piracy.

The 18th iteration of Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) began in Singapore on Aug. 19, emphasizing "realistic training scenarios wherein exercise participants will practice identifying, tracking and boarding of vessels participating in the exercise," The 7th Fleet said in a news release.

"SEACAT is regional maritime security at its best," Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander, Task Force 73, was quoted as saying.

"This year, more partner nations than ever have come to SEACAT to share their challenges and best practices. There's no better place to strengthen our abilities to sense, share and respond than working together at sea," he said.

Participating nations include Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United States and Vietnam.

During the drills, liaison officers will receive simulated reports of suspect vessels in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca, the Andaman Sea or the South China Sea.

Participants will then "develop and implement response plans utilizing aircraft and ships from participating navies and coast guards to investigate and conduct on-scene boardings as necessary," the news release said.

A total of 14 ships and more than 400 personnel will take part in the training, with U.S. Navy units including the staff of Destroyer Squadron 7 and P-8 Poseidon aircraft assigned to Task Force 72.