Here is a rundown of some of the notable events leading up to Wednesday’s news that China had put antiaircraft missiles on Woody Island in the South China Sea:
China begins construction on airstrip at Fiery Cross Reef after land reclamation efforts in 2014. The airstrip will be long enough to allow any Chinese military aircraft to land.
May 20, 2015
A US surveillance plane carrying a CNN crew flies over disputed territories in the South China Sea. The mission aimed to monitor China’s island-building processes in the Spratly Islands. According to CNN, the flight triggered eight warnings from the Chinese Navy, which demanded the US plane to “go away quickly.” The plane crew told CNN that they “see this every day,” indicating that the US had been conducting regular missions in the area for some time.
May 29, 2015
In a speech in Singapore, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter calls for an “immediate and lasting halt” to China’s land reclamation projects. He says that China has reclaimed 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined. A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry responded the next day that the US has “ignored history, laws, and facts.”
June 16, 2015
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang announces that “the land reclamation project of China’s construction on some stationed islands and reefs of the Spratly Islands will be completed in the upcoming days.” China would also continue to construct facilities on the islands and reefs.
September 2, 2015
In a sign of the expanding reach of China’s navy, five Chinese ships are found to be sailing in international waters in the Bering Sea off Alaska. The apparent first for China’s military came as President Barack Obama was visiting the state. “We respect the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis says.
China completes a 1.93-mile runway on Fiery Cross Reef.
October 27, 2015
The United States’ guided-missile destroyer sails within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, held by China but also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, testifying later before a Senate panel, says: “We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law permits and whenever our operational needs require.”
Chinese officials express strong opposition, with China’s ambassador to the US saying such operations are “a very serious provocation.”
October 29, 2015
In a legal setback for Beijing, an law court in The Hague says that it has the power to hear territorial claims the Philippines has filed against China over disputed areas in the South China Sea. China rejects the court’s authority in the and is boycotting the proceedings.
November 5, 2015
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visits the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the South China Sea with Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. “Being here … is a symbol and signifies the stabilising presence that the United States has had in this part of the world for decades."
November 8, 2015
Two US B-52 bombers take off from Guam and fly around the Spratly Islands near Chinese-built artificial islands. According to US Army Major Dave Eastburn, Chinese air-traffic controllers on the ground reached out to one of the US aircrafts by radio and warned it had “violated the security of my reef.”
November 24-29, 2015
The Hague tribunal hears oral arguments in the Philippines case against China.
December 10, 2015
Two US B-52 bombers get within 12 nautical miles of China’s man-made islands in the South China Sea. Bill Urban, the Defense Department spokesman, says the planes mistakenly entered disputed territory on a routine training missions. He adds that the mission, unlike the one in October, was not a “freedom of navigation operation.” The Chinese Defense Ministry accuses US of “flexing muscles” and calls the incident a “serious military provocation.”
January 2, 2016
China says it has conducted a civilian test flight to Fiery Cross Reef. Vietnam says it has lodged an official protest with the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi over the action.
January 6, 2016
China says it has conducted a second test flights to Fiery Cross Reef. Two civilian aircrafts were flown from the southern island of Hainan to Fiery Cross Reef. The planes returned to Hainan later that day.
January 11, 2016
Chinese media report that China has finished construction on a second 10,000-ton China Coast Guard cutter destined for patrols in the South China Sea”. It is dubbed the “monster” by the media due to its large size.
January 28, 2016
Wading into choppy political waters, Taiwan’s outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou pays a visit to a disputed Taiwan-controlled islet in the South China Sea, calling for peace among claimants of the disputed territories.
January 30, 2016
The guided-missile destroyer Curtis Wilbur sails within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island, claimed by China and two other states in the South China Sea, in what the US says is an effort to counter attempts to limit freedom of navigation. Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis says “no claimants were notified prior to the transit, which is consistent with our normal process and international law.” China strongly condemns the move.
February 13, 2016
New satellite images show what appears to be construction of Chinese helicopter landing sites at Duncan Island in the Paracel chain. The images also show dredging and port work at Tree Island and North Island in the Paracel chain.
February 17, 2016
Taiwan says China has deployed antiaircraft missiles on Woody Island.