The high-stake rivalry between China and the United States seems to have been increasing as Washington decided to send a littoral combat ship last week to patrol Chinese long-disputed territorial reclamation in the South China Sea.
The US dispatched a reconnaissance drone and a Seahawk helicopter to patrol the airspace above the South China Sea, while the USS Fort Worth, one of the most modern ships in the US navy, was sent to check the territorial waters around the Spratly islets where China reasserts its continental shelf.
China’s efforts to redefine its territorial waters were increased last year when Beijing commenced to build seven artificial islands near by the Spratly islands where coastal states in the South China Sea severely objected to Chinese maritime expansion.
China has long been confronting with its maritime neighbours Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei in the South China Sea territorial waters.
The parties’ overlapping claims on maritime transportation, navigation, exclusive economic zones, fishing grounds, undersea bed gas and oil reserves have already deteriorated the problem as China started to build artificial island last year.
The US moves to patrol South China Sea air space synchronically with territorial waters came as Beijing was preparing to declare an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area.
The US officials and experts see that the Chinese act to declare ADIZ is very likely soon above the of South China Sea through which China will also be able to control aerial security.
"It's not inevitable but if we are betting paychecks I'll bet that they will eventually declare one, I just don't know when," said a senior US commander familiar with the South China Sea dispute in Asia.
ADIZ is used sometimes to extend the control of national aerial borders without the formal laws and treaties, and enables countries to check air traffic as their flight information region, which requires civilian and military aircraft, to identify themselves or face possible military interception.
China had also declared an ADIZ in 2013 over the East China Sea where Beijing has long been disputing with Japan on some uninhabited islands to which China calls Diaoyu and Japan calls Senkaku.
Beijing had declared ADIZ over the Senkakus a year after Japan nationalised the islands and increased its continental shelf further into the East China Sea.
But the Chinese decision to constitute ADIZ in the Pacific sparked both US and Japan’s condemnation which was later on canalised into a clinched security cooperation as Japanese PM Shinzo Abe met with US President Barack Obama last month in Washington.
US officials claim that Chinese military complexes are now under construction on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly island and including a 3,000-metre runway and airborne early warning radars will be operational by the year end.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit China this weekend and the South China Sea disputes are expected to be discussed on the agenda of the parties.
Kerry is believed to take a tough approach on behalf of the US which raised concerns as Washington’s allies in the region like Japan and the Philippines voiced up their worries on the issue.
Meanwhile Beijing expressed its discontent on Friday as Chinese Foreign Ministry accused the Philippines of working together with the US to "exaggerate the China threat" in the region.
The Philippines was the loudest side against China’s territorial water claims in the region and believes that unless the ASEAN countries halt “Chinese revisionism,” the area will be taken under the “de facto Beijing control” in the medium term.
Just before the last month’s ASEAN summit in Malaysia, the Philippines urged the South Asian nations to take immediate actions for preventing Chinese land reclamations in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Manila had filed a case against Chinese claims in the international arbitration tribunal in 2013.
But, Malaysia took a more constructive approach and indirectly rejected Manila's offer to stand against Beijing in the summit. Instead, Malaysia sought an "expeditious resolution" to the water disputes without confronting the Beijing leadership in the region.