China's provision of a TEL for a new North Korean missile raises the possibility that it is assisting that program, but even the fact that China provided the TEL points toward a new level of support for Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. This contradicts China's oft-stated opposition to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development, including its leadership of the Six Party Talks intended to reverse that development. It suggests that China directly supports a nuclear threat aimed at the U.S.—and Europe as well, since North Korea's new missile could be sold to Iran.
Since early April, China has used its geographic proximity to challenge Washington's and Manila's revival of military cooperation—a relationship that improved rapidly following Clinton's change of longstanding U.S. neutrality toward the conflicting claims in the South China. That change of policy opposes China's claims to nearly the entire South China Sea, which Beijing asserted at the July 2010 Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.
Washington transferred a decommissioned 3,200-ton Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter to the Philippine navy in July 2011 (now that service's largest ship, it has been reclassified as a frigate), and may provide two more by 2013. In January 2012, it was revealed that Philippine and U.S. officials were discussing more expansive military cooperation for the first time since the 1991 departure of U.S. forces from Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base. That may include a sale of F-16 fighters to Manila and the rotation of U.S. surveillance aircraft through the Philippines, on the edge of China's ballistic missile submarine patrol area in the South China Sea.
On April 8 the Philippines intercepted Chinese fishing boats in the middle of Scarborough Reef, which is about 138 mi. from the Philippine island of Luzon, but about 500 mi. from China's Hainan Island. Manila dispatched its new Hamilton-class frigate for its first police action, intercepting the Chinese fishermen, but not arresting them. On April 10 two ships from China's Fisheries Protection Agency, one of several Chinese coast guard forces, blocked the Philippine ship. By this time it had become a diplomatic confrontation, which Manila sought to dial down by replacing its frigate with a coast guard corvette.
The standoff continued through the Philippine-U.S. Balikatan exercise that started on April 14. China declared a fishing moratorium for the region but continued to station its own fishing boats in the shoal, and sent fighters to overfly the area on June 11. China used its new long-range over-the-horizon radar on Hainan to control its maneuvers around Scarborough Shoal, while its use of coast guard ships demonstrated its ability to stand up to Manila and its larger ally, short of military action. Then, in early May, the Chinese navy dispatched a five-ship squadron, led by its largest Type 071 LPD that stoked fears China might attack Philippine-held islands. Likely in response, the Virginia-class submarine USS North Carolina made a visit to Subic Bay on May 15.
Amid the lingering Scarborough stand-off, China further challenged U.S. strategy by holding its most complex naval exercise to date with Russia. From April 21-27, 16 Chinese navy ships plus two submarines, and four Russian navy combat ships, conducted air defense and anti-submarine exercises. Then from June 7-14 about 400 Chinese airborne and ground troops joined Russian and Tajikistan forces for the Peace Mission 2012 exercise under the umbrella of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Newly reelected Russian President Vladimir Putin pointedly attended the SCO summit in Beijing in early June, emphasizing strategic cooperation with China.
In late June there were conflicting reports of an upcoming Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Syrian joint exercise that would involve 90,000 troops and 1,000 tanks and would include 12 Chinese ships that would transit the Suez Canal, all to deter possible Western military intervention in Syria. While the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries denied such an exercise would take place, it served as a warning that China could further parry the U.S. with a “pivot” of its own—toward the Middle East.