KEY POINTS

China's continued insistence that the Nine-Dash line gives them sovereignty over the bulk of the South China Sea is causing tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The U.S. DOD says that China's launching  of ballistic missiles is a threat to any stability in the South China Sea

China has promised to respond with "firm measures" with what they see as interference into China's internal affairs. 

The U.S. continues to run freedom of navigation runs (FONOPS) to counter China's military strength. 

The U.S. has flayed China's launch of ballistic missiles dubbed "carrier killers" into the South China Sea during live-fire exercises, with the Department of Defense (DOD) calling them "counterproductive" to easing tensions in the region.

Tensions have risen in the South China Sea recently, where China has made expansive maritime claims that overlap those of littoral states like Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. The U.S. has called the Chinese claims illegal, under the Nine-Dash Line and international law, and has recently stepped up military activity in the region.

The DOD confirmed that up to four ballistic missiles were launched by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during military exercises around the Paracel Islands. USNI News reported on two launches fired into the waters of the South China Sea. The missiles are seen as a threat to the powerful aircraft carrier-based naval groups the U.S. uses to project power around the world. Two such Navy carrier groups are currently active in the South China Sea. 

The DOD statement said, "Conducting military exercises over disputed territory in the South China Sea is counterproductive to easing tensions and maintaining stability. The actions, including missile tests, further destabilize the situation in the South China Sea."

The statement also referred to China’s commitment, made in 2002, to "avoid activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability."

The U.S. has no territorial claims in the South China Sea, but it provides the balance in military power that the smaller countries lack to counter the PLA’s naval forces and arms.

American vessels also often run freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the disputed waters. Commander Reann Mommsen told USNI News, "This freedom of navigation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the unlawful restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging China’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands."

A Chinese Ministry of National Defense spokesperson had said that the drills were previously planned and "are not directed at any country."

According to Aljazeera, Beijing is not happy about the blacklisting of two dozen state-owned Chinese companies involved in building and supplying China's South China Sea bases. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized Washington, saying, "The U.S.'s words grossly interfere in China's internal affairs ... it is wholly tyrannical logic and power politics. China will take firm measures to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and individuals.”

The willingness to launch missiles with a 2,500-mile range certainly fits into the category of a "firm measure," he added.

According to Aljazeera, Beijing is not happy about the blacklisting of two dozen state-owned Chinese companies involved in building and supplying China's South China Sea bases. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized Washington saying, "The U.S.'s words grossly interfere in China's internal affairs ... it is wholly tyrannical logic and power politics. China will take firm measures to uphold the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and individuals.”

The willingness to launch missiles with a 2,500-mile range certainly fits into the category of a "firm measure." south china sea Chinese structures are pictured at the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, April 21, 2017. Photo: REUTERS/Erik De Castro