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 disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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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.

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CHINA SHRUGS OFF MISSILE DEPLOYMENT REPORTS

China won't say whether it has deployed missiles to man-made island outposts in the South China Sea but says it has the right to take whatever actions it wishes on territory it claims as its own.

U.S. broadcaster CNBC quoted intelligence sources as saying that China has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on Fiery Cross Reef, Subi Reef and Mischief Reef in the contested Spratly island chain. CNBC said the defensive weapons were also spotted in satellite images of Woody Island, where China has a large military presence.

The missiles could strike both U.S. and other foreign navy vessels and military planes that regularly overfly the area, actions that Chinese forces often counter or protest.

Asked about the reports, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday that "peaceful constructions and deployed defensive facilities" aimed to "meet the need of safeguarding national sovereignty and security, which is also the right of a sovereign state."

Hua denied such work constituted militarization and accused the U.S. of increasing military tensions in the area, adding that, "They should be prepared for the consequences."

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US ACCUSES CHINA OR TARGETING FLIGHTS WITH LASERS IN DJIBOUTI

The U.S. accused China of targeting its military aircraft with high-powered lasers near China's military base in Djibouti, resulting in minor injuries to two pilots.

Opened last year, China's Djibouti base is the western-most foothold in its naval expansion from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. If true, the accusations of targeting U.S. aircraft in the Horn of Africa state fit a pattern of harassment of U.S. ships and planes in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety.

The U.S. issued a formal complaint to the Chinese government, saying the incidents were a serious threat to U.S. airmen. China denied the accusation on Friday, saying "after strict verification, we have told the U.S. side that what they alleged is absolutely untrue."

The U.S. has told its airmen to exercise caution when flying near certain areas in Djibouti.

The two pilots suffered minor eye injuries. There were no aircraft crashes or other more serious problems.

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AUSTRALIAN, FRENCH LEADERS URGE CHINA TO RESPECT RULES

French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issued a reminder to China to respect a "rules-based" order in the South Pacific amid concerns about Beijing's growing influence in the region.

Macron on Wednesday said China's rise was "very good news for everybody," but that it was "important is to preserve a rules-based development in the region, especially in the Indo-Pacific region, and to preserve the necessary balances In the region."

Turnbull said the economic rise of China was made possible "by a ruled-based order in our region."

"We welcome the benefits of the growth of China. But of course we are committed to the maintenance of the rules-based international order, to good governance, strong standards," Turnbull said.

Canberra has become concerned about increasing Chinese investment in infrastructure projects in the South Pacific, especially reports — denied by Beijing — that it wants establish a permanent military base in Vanuatu that could put China's forces in range of Australia.

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NEW U.S. PACIFIC COMMANDER WHO WARNED OF CHINA RISE CONFIRMED

The U.S. Senate confirmed Adm. Phil Davidson as the new head of the Pacific Command after he testified that China had reached the tipping point in its control over the South China Sea.

Davidson was confirmed on April 26 to take command of the roughly 375,000 civilian and military personnel in the region.

In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Davidson called for an increase in Navy, Army and Air Force commitments in what the U.S. now defines as the Indo-Pacific, primarily to deter "Chinese aggression or prevent a fait accompli."

China's South China Sea bases can be used to challenge the U.S. presence in the region, "and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants," Davidson wrote.

"In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States," he wrote.

Davidson warned also of China's development of its ballistic missiles, especially the DF-21 "carrier killer" and DF-26, which could reach U.S. military installations on Guam or other bases within its 4,000-kilometer (2,500-mile) range.

"Simultaneously, China is pursuing advanced capabilities (e.g., hypersonic missiles) which the United States has no current defense against. As China pursues these advanced weapons systems, U.S. forces across the Indo-Pacific will be placed increasingly at risk," Davidson wrote.