BEIJING — This is 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.
CHINA PROTESTS LATEST US NAVY ISLAND SAIL-PAST
China says it has registered "stern complaints" with the U.S. over the latest mission by a U.S. Navy ship intended to challenge China's claims of sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters on Monday that China dispatched planes and ships to demand that the guided-missile destroyer McCampbell leave waters around the Paracel Islands.
Lu said the Arleigh Burke-class warship was in the area Monday without China’s permission and “we have made stern complaints with the U.S.”
"Relevant actions by U.S. vessels violate Chinese and international laws, infringe on China's sovereignty, and undermine peace, stability and good order in relevant waters," Lu said.
"We will continue to take necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and security," he said.
Despite China’s objections, the U.S. has kept up a steady pace of such actions, known as a freedom of navigation operations, or FONOPs.
CHINA’S XI TELLS ARMY TO PREPARE FOR COMBAT
Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling on the People's Liberation Army to better prepare for combat, amid tensions over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Xi told a meeting of top military leaders Saturday that the 3 million-strong PLA needs to prepare for a "comprehensive military struggle from a new starting point," according to state media reports.
"Preparation for war and combat must be deepened to ensure an efficient response at a time of emergency," Xi was quoted as saying in the reports.
Over the six years since taking over as leader of the ruling Communist Party and its commission overseeing the military, Xi has put ever-growing emphasis on asserting China's South China Sea claims.
That includes fortifying its island outposts — particularly the seven new islands it has created by dumping sand and concrete on atolls — and increasing the PLA navy's presence to exclude other ships and planes from areas around those islands.
SHANAHAN TO PENTAGON: “CHINA, CHINA, CHINA”
The new acting U.S. defense secretary says he endorses his predecessor's renewed emphasis on addressing the rising threats from China and Russia.
At a morning meeting Thursday at the Pentagon with the military service secretaries and other top civilian officials, Pat Shanahan said he was focused on the defense strategy developed during the tenure of former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
In that context, Shanahan said the Pentagon leaders should remember, "China, China, China," according to one official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss internal defense meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The National Defense Strategy emphasizes the importance of great power competition with Russia and China, after America's many years of fighting insurgent wars in the Middle East.
BRITAIN TO OPEN NEW OVERSEAS BASES
Britain's defense minister says the country plans to add two new overseas military bases in coming years, including one in Southeast Asia.
Gavin Williamson told Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper in an interview published Dec. 30 that the other base would be in the Caribbean, part of what the paper called a push to "step up (Britain's) military presence overseas after Brexit."
"We have got to be so much more optimistic about our future as we exit the European Union," Williamson told the paper, which is generally supportive of the ruling Conservative Party.
Williamson no specific countries, but Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore are all former colonies with which London maintains warm relations. All but Singapore are parties to the dispute over China’s South China Sea claims.
Britain has sent naval vessels through the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims and drilled in the area with Singapore, Malaysia and other countries. China has also objected strongly to British criticism of its policies in the former British colony of Hong Kong.