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In the ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing, another element has now been added which is likely to exacerbate the situation further.

China Launches Missiles into South China Sea

On Wednesday, an incident occurred in the South China Sea, when China launched two medium-range missiles into the highly contested sea area. According to Beijing, the military’s demonstration of strength occurred after China previously rated an incident with an American spy plane as a “provocation.”

The missiles were fired from Qinghai and Zhejiang provinces on Wednesday and landed in a sea area that is currently closed for Chinese military exercises from Monday to Saturday, a source close to the Chinese military reported to the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post. There was talk of a “warning to the USA.”

It was a nuclear-armed medium-range missile of the type DF-26B with a range of 4,000 kilometers and an advanced anti-ship missile DF-21D with a range of 1,800 kilometers, the source reported to the paper which appears to possess high-level contacts.

According to the information provided, both rockets landed in an area southeast of the Chinese island of Hainan and the Paracel Islands.

China’s Complaint of ‘Severe Provocation’ from American Military

The missile launches followed China’s complaints that an American spy plane had entered a no-fly zone for Chinese armed forces’ target practice. In Beijing, a foreign office spokesman complained that the US U2 plane had “seriously disrupted” the maneuvers, resulting in a “severe provocation”.

According to Beijing, the flight at high altitude violated the US-China code of conduct and international practice, and Washington’s behavior could easily lead to misunderstandings and misjudgments — and even trigger accidents on land or at sea. The US should “cease such provocative actions immediately,” a spokesman for the Chinese government stated.

China’s Claims on the South China Sea

China continues to make territorial claims over large parts of the South China Sea through which essential shipping routes pass, and many raw materials can be found. The Hague International Court of Arbitration rejected the territorial claims in 2016. However, China ignored the ruling. The US government has also formally rejected the Chinese claims since mid-July. The sea area lies between China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The incident occurred in the People’s Liberation Army’s northern command area, which borders Russia, North Korea, and Mongolia. Here, China is currently conducting maneuvers in both the Northeast and the South China Sea, with American naval vessels often appearing to demonstrate navigation freedom on the world’s oceans and thus to deter further Chinese aggression in the area.

US Issues Further Restrictions on Chinese Companies and Visas

The incident occurs on par with the latest sanctions from Washington. Only on Wednesday, the US government issued visa and export restrictions against several Chinese state-owned companies involved in projects in the marine area in the territorial dispute. These include subsidiaries of the construction company China Communications Construction Company, according to communications from the State Department and the Department of Commerce in Washington.

China has created artificial islands on several reefs in the South China Sea and built military facilities, which is severely criticized internationally. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that since 2013 the Communist Party has been utilizing state-owned companies to advance its territorial claims, and thereby “destabilizing” the region, “trampling the sovereign rights of its neighbors and causing immeasurable environmental damage.”

China’s aggressive conduct occurs despite other neighbors such as Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also making claims to an individual or multiple islands in the South China Sea.

The American presence and the sanctions are thus not only warranted but needed, particularly in regard to the Taiwanese situation.

Moreover, with President Donald Trump’s election campaign heating up, the tensions between China and the US are more likely to escalate further in the coming weeks and months than to pacify.