Recent developments surrounding the South China Sea

BEIJING (AP) — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple territorial disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons. The waters are a major shipping route for global commerce and are rich in fish and possible oil and gas reserves.

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INDONESIA CONDEMNS TREATMENT OF NATIONALS BY CHINESE FISHING COMPANY

Indonesia’s government has condemned what it calls the “inhuman” treatment of its nationals by a Chinese fishing company that allegedly kept Indonesian fishermen as virtual slaves, leading to the deaths of at least three of them. The issue threatens to further inflame tensions between China and Indonesia, which accuses Chinese boats of poaching in its exclusive economic zone.

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Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said in a video conference Sunday from the capital, Jakarta, that 49 Indonesian fishermen, ranging from 19 to 24 years old, were forced to work an average of over 18 hours a day on at least four Chinese fishing boats.

Marsudi said some of the fishermen were either not paid at all or did not receive the amount they had agreed to. The ceaseless work and poor conditions on the ship caused illnesses among the crew members, killing at least three Indonesians, whose bodies were cast overboard into the Pacific Ocean, she said.

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U.S. UNMANNED AIRCRAFT BEEF UP INDO-PACIFIC DEFENSES

The U.S. military says it has substantially beefed up its presence in the Indo-Pacific region, which includes the South China Sea, with the deployment of a pair of MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

The aircraft can operate at more than 15,000 meters (50,000 feet) and have a range of more than 3,700 kilometers (2,000 nautical miles), providing “unmatched high-altitude persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability,” the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

“Bringing Triton forward creates a complex problem set for our adversaries,” said Cmdr. Michael Minervini, commanding officer of the unit operating the aircraft.

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U.S. NAVY SENDS SHIPS TO SCENE OF CHINA-MALAYSIA MINERAL RIGHTS DISPUTE

A pair of U.S. Navy ships sailed to the scene of a mineral rights dispute between China and Malaysia in the South China Sea, according to the news service of the U.S. Naval Institute.

USNI News said the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery and replenishment ship USNS Cesar Chavez conducted a patrol on Thursday near the Panamanian-flagged drill ship West Capella, which has been contracted by Malaysian state oil company Petronas to conduct surveys within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone.

Chinese navy and coast guard vessels have been shadowing the drilling ship.

In late April, U.S. and Australian ships conducted drills near where a Chinese government survey ship, Haiyang Dizhi 8, was reportedly operating under the protection of Chinese coast guard ships.

On Friday, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. John Aquilino, said China must cease “bullying Southeast Asians out of offshore oil, gas, and fisheries.”

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Associated Press writers Edna Tarigan and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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