This is kind of funny:
ASEAN navies are rapidly acquiring amphibious capabilities. Their intentions, however, remain unclear.
Hey, here's a clarifying thought:
Chinese construction efforts on Woody Island (one of the disputed Paracel Islands) continue as China recently announced the completion of a 2,000 meter long air strip. This is long enough to support warplanes and work continues on facilities adjacent to the air strip, apparently to support warplanes based on the tiny island. Earlier a school building was completed. This is being used for the 40 children of officials and their families stationed there. The workers continue construction of facilities for the capital of Sansha, a new Chinese municipality (city). Sansha is actually Woody Island and dozens of smaller bits of land (some of them shoals that are under water all the time) in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south. In fact, the new "city" lays claim to two million square kilometers of open sea (57 percent of the South China Sea).
Yeah, China's low-level creeping annexation of the South China Sea under the pretext that the region is their "city of Sansha" could require slightly higher levels of force by other countries to repel, reverse, and otherwise contest.
China would like to keep gaining ground without resistance or with resistance that can be quickly overcome. It is possible that the cost of a bigger fight might seem to risky if it leads to a war and disrupts China's economy (and therefore causes political problems for the Chinese Communist Party).
Or the Chinese could think that a big escalation that rapidly teaches a lesson to one of these ASEAN opponents will bolster nationalist street cred for the CCP and be over fast enough to avoid risk to the economy.
You never can tell how the thinking will end up. That, at least, is truly unclear.