Perhaps nowhere is the American and Chinese armies close to each other as in South China Sea. And brinkmanship may rise in the waters soon under President-elect Joe Biden.
As the world’s largest economies compete for everything from trade to the Coronavirus, fears have grown that misjudgment among warships could lead to a wider military confrontation. Although top defense officials from the United States and China have maintained communication even as broader relations deteriorate, more fervent nationalism in both countries increases the political risk of any crisis.
President Donald Trump The administration increased the number of “freedom of navigation operations” – known as FONOPs – in the South China Sea to challenge China’s claims to sovereignty. The current round of maneuvers, involving naval vessels sailing within territorial boundaries for the land features claimed by China, has reached a new high of 10 last year after a total of only five in the last two years of Obama Management.
Biden appears ready to maintain or even increase the number of FONOPs. Jake SullivanHe chose him for his national security advisor, and last year he lamented the inability of the United States to prevent China from militarizing the artificial land advantages in the South China Sea, and called on the United States to focus more on freedom of navigation.
“We must devote more assets and resources to ensuring and promoting and maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea together with our partners,” Sullivan Tell ChinaTalk, a podcast hosted by Jordan Schneider, an associate fellow at the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “That puts the shoe on the other foot. Then China has to stop us, which they won’t do.”
The United States has played a major role in maintaining security in Asian waters since World War II. However, Beijing’s military buildup, along with moves to consolidate its control over the disputed territories in the South China Sea, have raised concerns that it may be looking to prevent the U.S. military from accessing waters off the Chinese coast. In return, the United States has increasingly sought to establish the right to travel through what it considers international waters and airspace.
This led to a number of tense confrontations. In 2001, a mid-air collision between a US Navy reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese fighter jet led to an international accident, with the US crew being held for 10 days on Hainan Island. During a close call in 2018 between the Chinese destroyer Luoyang and the USS Decatur, the Chinese warship warned the US ship that it would “suffer consequences” if it did not change course, according to the South China Morning Post.
“We certainly don’t want to go to war on some coral rocks, but again we don’t want to allow China to change the bases with its presence,” said Joe Filter, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for South Asia and Southeast Asia. Asia and Oceania in the Trump administration. “They will pay it as much as possible.”
China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, based on a 1947 map showing mysterious signs that have since become known as’Line nine dashes. The United States appreciates that More than 30% From the global marine crude oil trade passes through the waters.
Besides China, there are five other governments claiming territories in the South China Sea: Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Efforts to resolve conflicts have made little progress: Talks with Southeast Asian countries on a code of conduct in water have been going on for nearly two decades.
Beijing has also rejected the dispute settlement mechanism under the law United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Commonly known as Unclos. In a case brought unilaterally by the Philippines, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague Rule In 2016, there was no legal basis for China to claim historic resource rights in the seas within the line of the Nine Dashes, and that man-made structures do not generate territories of sovereignty.
In a military battle, China could easily take the islands from its fellow claimants. The United States and Japan are the only two countries that “have a chance” against China, said Bill Highton, associate fellow in the Asia Pacific program at Chatham House and author of the book, while Southeast Asian nations can only hope to “catch a bloody nose.” Southern: The Power Struggle in Asia.
“We are reaching a kind of brinkmanship now,” he said. The United States has a technological advantage, but the closer the Chinese think about their ability to keep up with the United States, the closer we get to confrontation.
Underwater, there are a lot of fishing and energy resources at stake. The US Energy Information Administration estimates that the South China Sea contains about 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas (about 30% of the total Proven reserves In the Asia-Pacific region) and 11 billion barrels of oil reserves (about 25% of the total proven reserves in the region), with a potential discovery waiting. The United States says those untapped hydrocarbons may well be Deserves $ 2.5 trillion.
Over the past few decades, Chinese ships have engaged those of other claimants – most notably Vietnam and the Philippines – to prevent them from extracting those resources. China National Offshore Oil Corp., the nation’s major deepwater exploration company, invited foreign drilling workers in 2012 to explore blocks off Vietnam that Hanoi leaders had already awarded to companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. The OAO Gazprom.
China took advantage of the lack of cohesion among Southeast Asian countries, which allowed its strategy to seek only bilateral negotiations with all of the demands for repayment. While Vietnam resisted talks with China, the Philippines reached a framework agreement with Beijing for joint exploration and lifted the moratorium on operations in disputed waters before the arbitration case is filed.
Meanwhile, the United States has placed CNOOC on a list of Chinese companies owned or controlled by the Chinese military, which could expose it to sanctions that could disrupt its operations. In July, the Trump administration formally upheld the 2016 arbitration ruling and pledged to fight Chinese “bullying”.
“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire,” said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo He said in time. “America stands with our allies and partners in Southeast Asia in protecting their sovereign rights to marine resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law.”
China has insisted its legal position is sound and has rejected the Trump administration’s moves to punish it for its activities in the South China Sea. In September, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the United States “has become the biggest engine of militarization” in the waters.
He told his counterparts from all over the region at an annual meeting: “China hopes that countries outside the region, including the United States, will fully respect the wishes and expectations of the countries of the region, instead of stirring up tension and seeking gains from it.” .
However, these arguments are unlikely to hold up very much with the Biden administration. Many members of his national security team remember vividly that Xi Jinping told Barack Obama that China had no intention of militarizing land structures in the South China Sea when the two leaders met at the White House in 2015.
Since then, China has continued to militarize the disputed region, say These moves were necessary due to “increased military pressure from non-regional countries.” On seven coral reefs or rocks in the Spratly Archipelago, China has built harbors, lighthouses, and runways while also installing military equipment such as missile batteries on About 3,200 acres (1,290 hectares) of reclaimed land.
In September, the US State Department celebrated the fifth anniversary of Xi’s pledge to Obama with a statement titled “China’s Empty Promises in the South China Sea.” It said China has deployed anti-ship cruise missiles, expanded military radar and signal intelligence, and built runways and hangars for combat aircraft.
Land features built by Beijing could help project its power across the South China Sea, according to James Kraska, professor of international maritime law at the Stockton Center for International Law at the United States Naval War College.
“The islands provide concentric circles for the air cover of the entire South China Sea,” he said. “They were chosen to build miniature bases.”
Beijing has faced US criticism for developing disputed areas in the South China Sea. Top of page: Fiery Cross Reef, claimed by multiple countries. Bottom left: Woody Island, known as Yongxing Island in China, has been under Beijing’s control since 1956. Bottom right: Hughes Reef, located in the Union Banks area of the Spratly Chain. The United States has conducted several FONOPs nearby.
Photographer: DigitalGlobe / ScapeWare3d / DigitalGlobe
China also sounded alarm bells in August, when it launched a barrage of missiles in the South China Sea. Medium-range ballistic missiles, including a missile capable of being armed with a nuclear warhead, are key to Beijing’s strategy to deter military action off its eastern coast by threatening to destroy aircraft carriers and bases – two major sources of American power projection.
It remains unclear whether China will take measures to halt the US freedom of navigation operation. In response to the April Corridor by USS Barry near the Paracel Islands, spokesman for the Southern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army He said The warship entered the water illegally. The command deployed air and naval forces to monitor the ship and warned it not to leave, according to the state-backed China Daily newspaper.
Biden might also try to convince the Allies to join. A British warship was reported to have sailed near the Paracel Islands in 2018 and French Navy ships. They patrolled In the South China Sea. A senior US official said in July that the United States “would always like to see more like-minded countries participate” in the FONOPs program to build international consensus and pressure Beijing, the Australian broadcaster. mentioned.
Andrew Chube, a specialist in Chinese nationalism and territorial claims at Lancaster University, said that while the interdependence between the United States and China gives a strong incentive for both sides to escalate any incident, that account changes as they diverge further.
He said, “The possibility of clashes between the United States and China has probably increased.” “Meanwhile, the level of risk of any clash is rising – and is likely to increase further as the two economies continue to separate.”