High Stakes on the High Seas

By Mike Chinoy

Mike Chinoy was a foreign correspondent for CNN for 24 years, serving as the network’s first Beijing bureau chief and as senior Asia correspondent. Currently a Hong Kong-based non-resident senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute, he is the author of four books and the creator of “Assignment China,” a documentary history of American correspondents in China.

The South China Sea is rapidly becoming one of the most dangerous places on earth. Beijing has long claimed most of the sea as its sovereign territory, although neighbors Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, and Taiwan have rival claims. Since late 2013, China has sought to consolidate its control over the disputed waters by reclaiming land and creating a series of artificial islands complete with runways, fueling widespread concern about the military consequences of this assertion of maritime sovereignty.

“If you look at all these facilities,” Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently, “you could imagine a network of missile sites, runways for their fifth generation fighters and surveillance sites, and all that—it creates a mechanism in which China would have de-facto control over the South China Sea.”

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