China tests electronic warfare equipment in South China Sea
China continued its aggression in the South China Sea by testing electronic warfare equipment in early July 2018 that was recently installed on artificial islands the nation built in the Spratly Islands, CNBC television network reported.
“This is very bad news, especially because most Southeast Asian militaries already don’t possess very comprehensive IEW [intelligence/electronic warfare] capabilities to begin with, and China’s widening this asymmetry further,” Collin Koh, a Singapore-based security analyst, said on Twitter, according to the Inquirer.net website.
Such electronic warfare capabilities can disrupt or even disable communications, navigation and radar systems. China installed electronic warfare equipment designed to jam such systems on two of its fortified outposts in the Spratly Islands, including Fiery Cross Reef (pictured in January 2018) and Mischief Reef, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported in April 2018. China has also deployed surface-to-air and anti-ship cruise missiles on the nearby Paracel Islands as part of its controversial militarization of the region and assertion of its territorial claims.
China tested the electronic warfare equipment despite a joint statement in early June 2018 by defense ministers from Australia, Japan and the U.S., stating the nations’ “strong opposition to the use of force or coercion as well as unilateral action to alter the status quo, and to the use of disputed features for military purposes in the South China Sea.”
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have staked claims to portions of the resource-rich South China Sea that compete with China’s territorial contentions.
A growing group of analysts now suggests that China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea and ongoing militarization of these outposts constitute an illegal territorial expansion through force in contravention of international law and may warrant counter action.
Dr. Constantinos Yiallourides, an international law expert, explained in the July 11, 2018, edition of The Diplomat online magazine: “If China’s occupation and unilateral deployment of armed forces in the Spratlys qualify as a use of force against other claimant states, hence constituting a breach of an erga omnes norm [that is, an obligation under general international law that a state owes to the international community as a whole], third-party states can, even if they are not specially affected by the breach, invoke China’s international responsibility. Such a breach would mean that states other than the South China Sea claimants (i.e. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan) can also impose an array of sanctions on China. Whether any states are prepared to take such countermeasures, however, remains to be seen.”
Yiallourides, the Arthur Watts research fellow on the international law of territorial disputes at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, authored a July 2018 report, titled “The Use of Force in Relation to Sovereignty Disputes over Land Territory.”
In June 2018, speaking at an international security forum in Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis called out Chinese President Xi Jinping for breaking his 2015 promise not to militarize the artificial islands in the South China Sea, according to The Telegraph multimedia website.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.
“There are consequences that will continue to come home to roost, so to speak, with China, if they don’t find a way to work more collaboratively with all of the nations who have interests,” he added.