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Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

CHINA TRANSITS TAIWAN STRAIT

China says its first entirely homebuilt aircraft carrier has transited the Taiwan Strait on its way to the South China Sea for exercises.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, file photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wave to the media following a welcome ceremony at Malacanang Palace in Manila, Philippines. A senior U.S. analyst has urged the Philippines to act cautiously in engaging with Beijing on any joint oil exploration projects in the South China Sea, saying China would likely dictate the conditions of any such engagement. (AP PhotoBullit Marquez, File)

A brief statement from navy spokesman Cheng Dewei said the still-unnamed ship encountered no obstacles while passing through the sea lane dividing China from self-governing Taiwan on Sunday.

Chen said its mission in the South China Sea was part of the normal fitting-out process and not directed at any third parties or ongoing situations.

Taiwan scrambled ships and jets to monitor the passage of the carrier, China’s second and its first constructed entirely by itself from keel to mast.

Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, left, greets U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Bangkok, Thailand, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. The two held their first face-to-face talks Monday. (AP PhotoRobert Burns)

CHINA URGES US TO ‘STOP FLEXING MUSCLES’ IN REGION

China is urging the U.S. military to “stop flexing muscles” in the disputed South China Sea.

A spokesman for the Chinese ministry of defense told reporters in Bangkok that Beijing wants the U.S. to halt what he called “provocations” in the area.

Col. Wu Qian spoke to reporters Monday after the Chinese minister of defense, Gen. Wei Fenghe, met with U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper on the side of an Asia defense officials conference.

“We agreed to keep talking and engaging frequently,” Esper told reporters afterward in a brief exchange. “We continue to make progress on any number of issues.”

US, AUSTRALIA HOLD DRILLS IN SOUTH CHINA SEA

Navy ships from treaty partners the United States and Australia drilled together in the South China Sea earlier this month, re-affirming their mutual inter-operability.

The Nov. 6-12 exercise involved the USS Montgomery, one of new class of advanced littoral combat ships, and the Australian Navy Anzac-class frigate HMAS Stuart and fleet replenishment vessel HMAS Sirius.

“While transiting together at sea, Montgomery, Stuart and Sirius conducted communication drills, division tactics, bilateral flight operations, and a personnel exchange, all designed to address common maritime security priorities, enhance interoperability, and develop relationships that will benefit both navies for many years to come,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement.

US ANALYST WARNS MANILA OVER CHINA

A senior U.S. analyst has urged the Philippines to act cautiously in engaging with Beijing on any joint oil exploration projects in the South China Sea, saying China would likely dictate the conditions of any such engagement.

Derek Grossman of the Washington-based RAND Corporation said Chinese-Philippine joint projects around the disputed Reed Bank “probably aren’t going to work out” and added “it will be on Beijing’s terms if anything.”

“They tell you when, where and how to do it. It’s not gonna eventually lead to more Philippine sovereignty,” Grossman told a group of Philippine reporters earlier this month.

Grossman likened joint exploration with China to rewarding it for having dismissed the July 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated much of Beijing’s claim over the South China Sea.