If reports about the presence of Chinese dredging ships near Scarborough Shoal are true, Beijing may be planning to start island-building on the disputed reef to turn it into another military outpost. The U.S. Pacific Command should order a military air and surface reconnaissance operation to check on the ships and to learn their intentions. This will give a message to China that the U.S. will actively oppose regional military hegemonism.
Photos of Chinese ships deployed near a key disputed reef in the South China Sea surfaced over the weekend as U.S. and Chinese leaders met at the Group of 20 nations summit and discussed maritime disputes.
The Philippines Defense Ministry published photos of 11 Chinese ships near Scarborough Shoal that include vessels that some reports indicated appear designed for dredging operations – a key indicator Beijing is ignoring U.S. and international calls for a halt to island-building on disputed reefs and islands.
A Pentagon official confirmed that the Chinese have stepped up the number of ships and maritime patrol craft in the vicinity of Scarborough – a large reef claimed by China and Philippines and close to Subic Bay where U.S. warships will be deployed in the future in support of an upgraded Washington-Manila defense pact. But the official said it could not confirm Philippines reports they included dredging ships.