If reports about the presence of Chinese dredging ships near Scarborough Shoal are true, Beijing may be planning to start island-building on the disputed reef to turn it into another military outpost. The U.S. Pacific Command should order a military air and surface reconnaissance operation to check on the ships and to learn their intentions. This will give a message to China that the U.S. will actively oppose regional military hegemonism.

Photos of Chinese ships deployed near a key disputed reef in the South China Sea surfaced over the weekend as U.S. and Chinese leaders met at the Group of 20 nations summit and discussed maritime disputes.

The Philippines Defense Ministry published photos of 11 Chinese ships near Scarborough Shoal that include vessels that some reports indicated appear designed for dredging operations – a key indicator Beijing is ignoring U.S. and international calls for a halt to island-building on disputed reefs and islands.

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