Warships, coastguard vessels, militia boats and oil rigs in the contested waters have doubled as Malaysia, Vietnam and China fight for their claim to the sea. Chinese military aircraft have conducted anti-submarine drills in the contested waters in recent weeks. This was in response to the USS Mc Campbell sailing through the contested region. China conducted joint exercises in mid–March despite knowing the risk of aggravating other claimant countries.
China has also activated its fishermen militia which have outnumbered all countries fishing boats in the SCS, in a bid to outmanoeuvre them.
These fishermen militia have been closely followed by Chinese coastguard ships as a show of power.
In early March 2020, USS Theodore Roosevelt along with an advanced destroyer made the visit to Danang to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations.
China perceived it as a growing closeness between the US and Vietnam as this was the second ever visit by any US carrier strike group to Vietnam.
Earlier this week the USS Barry (DDG 52), the US navy guided-missile, was destroyed during a live fire exercise fired a missile in the SCS showcasing its offensive capabilities.
A day before that the Lockheed EP-3E aircraft from the US Navy conducted surveillance between Taiwan and the Philippines, in the Bashi Channel.
This was in response to the infringement of Taiwan’s air space by Chinese military planes earlier in February.
The US counter moves and live firing exercises has aggravated China to such an extent that it has been firing lasers on US surveillance aircrafts, while conducting air blasts in the East China Sea.
This growing intensity of Chinese naval actions has compelled Japan and Vietnam to further develop their defence and strategic relations.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an emergency ASEAN session is being ruled out.
However, there may be a web-conference to address the situation.
Professor Pankaj Jha of Jindal Global University said: “The Chinese moves are to intimidate Vietnam into not issuing a strict statement against China and also abide by the Chinese diktats during the ASEAN summit, which in all likelihood might get delayed.
“However, Vietnam has made plans for a press release against the Chinese aggressive tactics. They may even name China as the aggressor.
“Chinese presence in Union banks, which is northeast of Johnson Reef have angered the Vietnamese, because more than three decades ago China had killed several Vietnamese soldiers to claim the Johnson Reef.
“Five People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) ships have been tracked closer to the waters and have been stationed there for quite some time.”