In December, the Chinese province of Hainan announced an exclusive Chinese fishing zone covering much of the South China Sea. Protests against the exclusive zone drew the response that this was not a matter of Chinese national policy, merely a policy broached by a provincial government. But there has been no retreat on China’s part. This move, moreover, followed not long after the Chinese government announced an Air Defense Identification Zone covering the whole South China Sea, impinging on similar zones operated by Japan and Korea.
Some commentators have pointed out that individual Chinese officers seem eager to push matters through provocative acts against U.S. military aircraft (such as the EP-3 downed by collision in 2001) and naval vessels in the South China Sea. Chinese troops have laid claim to several small islands also claimed by other countries, such as the Philippines. In at least one case, off Malaysia, the claim was unsupported by military presence, but trumpeted by China’s media, indicating that the policy is intended to buttress the popularity of the Chinese regime.