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The waters are a highly contested region and faces rival ownership claims from China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan. Over the last few months, Beijing has increased its military presence in the area.
Diplomatic relations between the nations, which have laid claim to the islands, are already extremely strained.
The recent construction of bunkers on some of the atolls points to China preparing to “protection against air or missile strikes”, raising the prospect of a potential conflict, sparking World War 3 fears.
The islands and surrounding reefs have been the subject of a bitter and long-running territorial dispute, with China, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines all laying claim to parts of the archipelago.
And now, Vietnam and the Philippines have held a virtual meeting to discuss rules of governance over the region.
Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in the meeting: “While the entire world is stretched thin in the fight against the [coronavirus] pandemic, irresponsible acts and acts of violation of international law are still taking place, affecting the environment of security and stability in certain regions, including our region.”
Mr Phuc went on to while the region promotes the “full and strict compliance” of the rules of governing the region and “making every effort to establish an effective” code of conduct with China, there are still problems.
He said: “International institutions and international law are being seriously challenged.”
The Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte echoed Mr Phuc’s comments and called on all parties to follow the laws that govern the sea.
He said: “Even as our region struggled to contain COVID-19, alarming incidents in the South China Sea occurred.
“We call on the parties to refrain from escalating tension and abide by responsibilities under international law.”
This month, Taiwan deployed marines to the Pratas Islands amid reports China would be conducting military drills in the area.
According to a Ministry of National Defense (MND) official, an undisclosed number of Taiwanese marines were deployed to the region as part of a training mission.
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The source told Focus Taiwan the mission was aimed at strengthening the defence capabilities as well as improving logistical and equipment maintenance skills of the Taiwanese Coast Guard officers.
The move comes after Japan’s Kyodo News reported last month how the People’s Liberation Army of China were planning to hold large-scale beach landings in the area.
It is believed the beach landing trainings are reportedly to simulate the takeover of the Pratas Islands, an area considered to be significant for Beijing.
The islands sit in a strategic crossroads which Chinese warships would have to pass when travel to the Pacific.
Last month, the Communist nation held terrifying simulations in the disputed area.
The drill involved China’s People’s Liberation Army Marine Corps and reportedly demonstrates how the Communist nation’s forces could project power across the contested waters.
The Marine Corps – or PLANMC – undertook an anti-piracy exercise near the Paracel Islands.
The drills showed off the corps capabilities to China’s neighbours at a time where tensions are increasingly growing in the area.
There are also ongoing disputes with the Communist nation and the US after both flexed their military might in the region.
According to reports this week, three US Air Force planes were spotted flying into Chinese territory.
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