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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

China announced on April 18 it has created two new municipal districts to administer disputed regions in the South China Sea that are also claimed by other countries in the region. Chinese ships also trailed a Malaysian vessel operating in waters near Malaysia.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party may try to "solidify and strengthen" its maritime claims while the world is busy dealing with the pandemic, said James Kraska, a professor of international maritime law at the U.S. Naval War College.

  • "All countries that are concerned about China embellishing their position in the South China Sea and East China Sea should be concerned that this would be an opportunity while countries are preoccupied with COVID-19," Kraska told Axios.

Context: Numerous Southeast Asian countries have overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, but China claims almost the entire body of water and has built up massive artificial islands there, constructing airstrips and other military installations.

  • A 2016 ruling by an international court at the Hague stated that many of China's claims in the disputed waters have no basis in international law.
  • Beijing has ignored the ruling.

In recent days, the U.S. sent two warships into Malaysian waters in a show of force.

What they're saying: China "should cease its bullying behavior and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilizing activity,” the U.S. State Department told Reuters on April 18.

Go deeper

How the U.S.-China consulate closures could impact espionage

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

It is a universally accepted international convention that diplomatic facilities can be used as cover for espionage activities. But the system only works if states pretend not to acknowledge it.

The state of play: A decision last week by the Trump administration to shutter the Chinese consulate in Houston over allegations that China used it for spying set off a predictable diplomatic firestorm.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.