South China Sea: THIS is the line in the sand – MP highlights key strategic island

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However, Mr Ellwood also suggested it was now very difficult to reverse the process, given the number of islands the superpower has already turned into what are effectively floating military bases in the disputed waterway. And the Bournemouth East MP, a member of Parliament’s China Research Group, feared the ultimate aim was to cordon the sea off – leaving Taiwan effectively surrounded.

It is the next phase, and that’s the concern

Tobias Ellwood

Speaking last week Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell issued a specific warning to Beijing in respect of Scarborough Shoal, an uninhabited island which is claimed by the Philippines.

Speculating on why Mr Stilwell had singled out the island, Mr Ellwood, told “It is the next phase, and that’s the concern.

“The Paracel islands are to the west, the Spratly Islands are to the south.

“The area we are speaking about is bigger than western Europe so Scarborough Shoal will complete the nine-dotted line.

“Scarborough Shoal is closer to the Philippines than it is to China.

“In fact it is arguably closer to Malaysia as well so both of them could rightly claim it before China and yet you have got these activities going on.

“This is almost 1,000 miles off China’s coast.”

Mr Ellwood added: “This is one of the many islands and archipelagos which China is developing.

“The Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands, they are all part of the maritime strategy to dominate the South China Sea.

“This will mean that Taiwan is essentially surrounded, making it very difficult for anybody to intervene.”

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The process of militarising islands in the sea was part of a wider strategy aimed at enabling China to extend its influence far beyond its borders, Mr Ellwood said.

He explained: “Once they have turned these islands into military fortresses, their next step is to impede international maritime access.

“And once they have achieved that, I expect them to introduce what is called an air defence identification zone, which is essentially controlling the airspace.

“This is contrary to international law. Many of these islands are disputed territories and yet nobody is standing up to China.

“It is creating this nine-dotted line area of exclusion and the international community has turned a blind eye.”

Mr Stilwell told the forum: “Any move by the PRC [Peoples’ Republic of China] to physically occupy, reclaim, or militarise Scarborough Shoal would be a dangerous move on the part of the PRC and will have lasting and severe consequences for the PRC’s relationship with the United States as well as the entire region.”

Meanwhile US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who yesterday criticised China for its “menacing” behaviour, last week dismissed China’s maritime claims across most of the South China Sea as “completely unlawful”, in what was widely regarded as a significant policy shift.

However, Mr Ellwood said: “I welcome it as a first step but ultimately the international community needs to be more cohesive and show greater resolve in standing up for the world order.

“The fact that China has been been given this space in the first place and hasn’t been checked means to some degree it is actually too late.

“Many of these islands have already got runways, missiles installed on them, this is not going to be easily undone.

“His comments are welcome but they have come very, very late in the day.

“It’s a reflection of how the West has lost its appetite to stand up to errant behaviour.”

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