BEIJING – A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.
NEW CHINESE MILITARY TRANSPORT AIRCRAFT DECLARED SET FOR DEPLOYMENT
Chinese state media say the country's new Shaanxi Yun-9 military transport aircraft has completed trial runs over the South China Sea and is ready to be deployed, expanding China's abilities in "safeguarding maritime rights" in the strategically crucial waterway.
The Global Times newspaper said Sunday that the quadruple turbo prop plane "is now able to undertake combat missions" after conducting its first long-range training missions over the South China Sea. Word of the completion of trials was also announced by the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force on Saturday on its official WeChat microblog.
Training included making air drops without assistance from ground controllers and preparing for emergency contingencies in all weather conditions, the Global Times said. That guarantees its ability to deliver supplies to China's island outposts in the sea, many of which have been equipped with radar stations, missile batteries, hardened aircraft shelters and other military infrastructure.
The Yun-9 is a longer version of China's mainstay Yun-8 military transport aircraft, boasting advanced features, the ability to take off and land in a variety of environments, including small islands such as those created by China from coral reefs, and relatively inexpensive production costs.
It can transport up to 20 tons of cargo, vehicles and about 100 troops, as well as serve in a medivac function with a maximum range of 4,200 kilometers (2,610 miles). The Global Times said that among its training missions, it flew from a military airport in the southwestern province of Sichuan, landed on an island in the South China Sea and returned to base the same day.
AUSTRALIAN LAWMAKER RESIGNS AMID ACCUSATIONS OF CHINA BUYING INFLUENCE
An Australian lawmaker who made controversial comments about respecting Chinese claims in the South China Sea resigned from his leadership roles in the opposition party over scandals involving a wealthy Chinese businessman and political donor that have raised accusations of China buying influence.
Sen. Sam Dastyari was deputy whip in the center-left Labor Party and chairman of a parliamentary committee examining the future of journalism before resigning Thursday over his dealings with Chinese Communist Party-linked businessman Huang Xiangmo.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten demanded Dastyari's resignation from his leadership roles late Wednesday after media broadcast audio of the senator misleading Chinese journalists last year on the Labor Party's policy on the South China Sea territorial disputes.
Australia maintains that China should respect international law, and an arbitration ruling last year found China's broad claims to the sea were legally baseless. But Dastyari told Chinese reporters at a news conference in Sydney attended by Huang that Australia should observe "several thousand years of history" by respecting Chinese claims over most of the South China Sea. The phrasing echoes China's stance.
Fairfax Media reported that Dastyari gave Huang counter-surveillance advice when they met at the businessman's Sydney mansion in October last year. Dastyari suggested the pair leave their phones inside the house and go outside to speak in case Australian intelligence services were listening, Fairfax reported.
Dastyari has not denied the reports but said he had no knowledge about whether Huang was under Australian surveillance at the time.