The Belligerence Of The PLA In South-East Asia

The Chinese as part of its hegemonic ambitions have been constantly trying to disrupt the peace world order at large and specifically in the Southeast Asia. They have been constantly projecting their military prowess through very frequent live fire drills, incursions in the territorial waters of other nations and gross exploitation of natural resources. The Chinese have adopted the strategy of area dominance and have been constructing artificial islands and heavily fortifying them. They have also militarised and constructed airbases and satellite radar domes on Spratly and Parcel Islands, a contested area between many nations.

The southern theatre command of the PLA is responsible for areas in and around the South China Sea. However, many incidents in the recent past indicates that the Chinese troops continue to engage in activities in violation of territorial integrity of other nations. It often undertakes joint exercises on the directives of the CCP dangerously close to the borders of the independent nations and attempts to provoke a response from them. Recent incidents also indicate multiple incidences of GPS jamming of mercantile traffic in South China Sea (SCS). The PLAN and PLAAF have often transgressed into the Taiwan Strait and have conducted firing exercises with live rounds often bringing the two countries on the brink of a violent confrontation. Recently there have been two occasions on which the Chinese transgressed into the Taiwan Strait. First, the aircraft carrier Shandong of the PLAN entered the Taiwan Strait earlier this month. Second, many aircraft of the PLAAF having a mix of fighters and bombers flew close to the national airspace of Taiwan. This is a usual hegemonic affair by Chinese to intimidate Taiwan.

Not just Taiwan, but the Chinese have been indulging in belligerent acts with the Philippines and Indonesia regularly. They occupied and militarised the Spratly Island which is a strategic Island in the South China Sea. The Chinese have constructed an airbase along with a few radar domes on that island and augmenting with fighter jets, laser and jammer gear, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, and other weapons as show off of their military might. Pertinently, the airfield is long enough to fly fighters, bombers, transport aircraft and AWACS. The unfriendly activities are in sharp contrast to previous statements made by Chinese President Xi Jinping that Beijing would not turn the man-made islands in disputed waters into military outposts. Therefore, it can be seen that the purpose of such islands is to increase the PRC’s offensive capacity outside of its continental borders.

radomes on the Spratly Islands
Spratly Island Base

Chinese fishermen under the protection of the Coast Guard and the Chinese Navy often transgress the waters of neighbouring nations and carry out unrestrained illegal fishing. Further, militias armed by the CCP often harass the local fishermen from fishing in their waters. Chinese ships are also often accused of interfering with two locations in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines, including a collaborative marine scientific research mission and energy exploration activities. Due to Beijing’s extensive territorial claims and the actions of its Coast Guard and fishing fleet in the SCS, Philippines and China have historically had a tense relationship and the Philippines have often protested against the Chinese actions and its illegitimate territorial claims. It considers it to be a violation of the guidelines laid by the UNCLOS.

But these nations face a mammoth diplomatic challenge in front of them. Chinese companies, over the years, have invested in various infrastructure development projects in these nations. This ensures the Chinese, diplomatic as well as economic leverage. The Chinese strategy to dominate small and weak nations by flooding investments has been bearing good dividend thus far. Along with capital, they also inject the media of the country with information that praises China and highlights the advantages for a nation if they have an alliance with China. Therefore, nations with weak civil societies and a lack of independent media make these nations succumb to the narratives that are carefully injected. Beijing also cultivates friendly voices in nations where it has vested interests, this curbs activism and reduces the relevance of protests in China. The Chinese have also been very cunningly meddling with the internal matters of Myanmar and have been influencing its political environment since the coup.

Also Read, China’s PLA: Numbers In The Front, Darkness Behind

China is hoping that by aiding the Burmese military, its geostrategic economic initiatives via Myanmar would quickly resume and it will be able to exert more influence in South and Southeast Asia. Beijing, on the other hand, sees the pro-democracy National Unity Government (NUG) and affiliated ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) as revolutionary hindrances. They view these groups as too weak to overthrow the state but powerful enough to stall China’s intentions to economically enslave Myanmar to its South – Western regions. Therefore, the Chinese have been silently backing the “Military Junta” regime. The security of the Indo-Pacific area is being threatened by China’s approach to the dictatorship. Supporting and legitimising the military government runs the danger of inciting further bloodshed in Myanmar and making it impossible to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

As a result of the violence spreading beyond Myanmar’s borders and throughout the region, Myanmar’s neighbours will be obliged to endure heavy financial burdens. China is pressuring Mekong nations to strengthen their ties with the military regime, and ASEAN runs the risk of losing the chance to act as an impartial middleman between the Junta and the resistance. This would undermine any chances of a genuine consensus developing among ASEAN member states and further stall the regional response. Though it would help China achieve its economic incentives but would push the Burmese people into a trap of unending civil war


The Airfields and bases on the Spratly and Parcel Islands along with the militarization of other artificial islands in the IOR are meant to add muscle of the Chinese military giving it a strong foothold. These bases give the Chinese the ability to rapidly mobilize troops, deploy and mount an offensive on any nation in IOR. Also, the numeric superiority of the PLA, PLAN and the PLAAF complimented by technology act as a catalyst for expansionist ambitions and fuels more belligerent actions.

Several questions arise out of the recent developments. Why do the nations prefer taking loans from China at a higher rate of interest? Why are Chinese companies still able to secure investments in infrastructure development projects in the nations? How are the Chinese being able to exert control over media in these countries? The misconception of the debt trap in South and Southeast Asian countries has been dismissed by many academicians but the underlying risk of it in the future cannot be fully dismissed. The Chinese debt might be a small percentage of the total debt of a country but it’s enough for them slowly take over the politico-economic machinery of a nation slowly and gradually.  They implemented the same strategy with Pakistan and to some extent with Sri Lanka too. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that one day whole South East Asia might fall into this trap of all the necessary steps being taken and the Chinese dream of being the global hegemon being shattered.

Also Read, China’s Debt Trap – Masterstroke Or Blunder?



The Editorial Team At DefenceXP Network Consists Of Professional Writers, Defence Enthusiast And Defence Aspirants.

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