Radio Free Asia has reported that "even as the coronavirus crisis sweeps through Asia, China continues to assert its presence in the South China Sea by deploying maritime militia around disputed islands and reefs in the Spratly island chain."
Zack Cooper, a research fellow specializing on Asian security issues at the American Enterprise Institute, said China was continuing with its assertive behavior in regional disputes despite the COVID-19 pandemic now commanding the world's attention.
“Beijing has stepped up military activity around Taiwan and now appears to be doing some of the same around Union Banks. Whether this is simply a continuation of previous activity or an intentional effort to use this distraction to put pressure on other claimants is unclear,” Cooper said.
Ship-tracking software indicates that five People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels – with the call signs Yuetaiyu (Fishing vessel) 18777, 18333, 18888, 18222, and 18555 -- passed in early March between China's reclaimed island at Subi Reef -- often a waystation for Chinese ships deployed to the region -- and Thitu Island, a Philippine-occupied feature where Chinese vessels have engaged in a sustained pressure campaign, as documented by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative. The ships first stopped at Whitson Reef, in Union Banks’ northeast, from March 3 to March 8.
It is obvious that the Wuhan Virus presents defence as well as health and economic threats. It follows that the Morrison Government's growing multi-billion dollar stimulus package ought to be re-directed in part to the Armed Forces as a matter of urgency. Australia's supplies of fuel and possibly food are at stake.