Tension between Washington and Beijing continues to build in the South China Sea, with officials in Beijing saying Tuesday they’ll increase pressure on the United States to curb its “militarization” of the critical waterway.
When the two sides sit down next week for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, “Beijing will pressure Washington over maritime issues…as the United States’ increasing military presence in the South China Sea is among China’s major concerns,” a Chinese official told the official China Daily. China has long claimed most of the South China Sea as its own, and embarked on an ambitious island-building program on a series of reefs also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
Rhetoric, and action. May was a busy month in the increasingly tense standoff between Washington and Beijing. Earlier this month, Chinese fighter planes buzzed an American surveillance plane in the South China Sea in what the Pentagon said was an “unsafe” intercept. Prior to that incident, the U.S. Navy’s USS William P. Lawrence passed near Fiery Cross Reef, angering Beijing. China’s Defense Ministry responded by saying it was deploying more military hardware to the disputed islands in the waterway. In a statement, the ministry said, “the provocative actions by American military ships and planes lay bare the U.S. designs to seek gain by creating chaos in the region and again testify to the total correctness and utter necessity of China’s construction of defensive facilities on relevant islands.”
Fat Leonard. The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet is at the tip of the spear when it comes to safeguarding American interests in the Pacific. But the fleet’s leadership has also been roiled by a years-long investigation into a bribery and corruption scandal the likes of which the U.S. military has never seen. The issue revolves around tens of millions of dollars in Navy sustainment contracts shoveled to Singapore-based businessman Leonard Glenn Francis, (“Fat Leonard”) in return for lavish dinners, expensive gifts, prostitutes, travel, and other bribes to U.S. Navy officers and civilian staffers.
As many as 200 people remain under investigation, and 13 have already been charged, including three announced on Friday: (ret.) Capt. Michael Brooks, Cmdr. Bobby Pitts, and Lt. Cmdr. Gentry Debord.