Further to this post (and the many “Comments”),
does the US have to fish or cut bait (and consider the perhaps incalculable consequences of continuing casting)?
Few Choices For US As China Militarizes South Pacific
Leading Republicans hastened today [Feb. 17] to denounce China’s deployment of anti-aircraft missiles to the South China Sea. But what can the US actually do about it? The arrival of the sophisticated HQ-9 missiles in the Paracel islands — claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan but occupied by China — is just the latest step in Beijing’s steady extension of military power into the Pacific, and it won’t be the last.
While America reacts, struggling to figure out each move, China is pursuing a long-term strategy. The Chinese have claimed the whole South China Sea, based on the notorious Nine Dash Line drawn on the map by the Chiang Kai-Shek government they ousted in 1949. Now they’re gradually filling in that area with actual capability to control it — and they’d be doing so regardless of what the US was doing.
Yes, the Paracels are where a US Navy destroyer conducted a Freedom Of Navigation Operation (FONOPS) last month challenging Chinese territorial claims. But was that operation the cause of the Chinese deployment or just a pretext for it? Two leading experts from different parts of the political spectrum both told me: pretext…
External events like American operations, the recent electoral victory of Taiwan’s pro-independence party, and the just-concluded Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in California may have shaped the timing and tactics of Chinese actions, said Dean Cheng of the conservative Heritage Foundation. But what’s driving the decisions is a long-term strategy to dominate the South China Sea and president Xi Jinping‘s determination to appear a strong champion of Chinese nationalism.
To the extent that political factors matter, it’s internal Chinese politics rather than geopolitics between China and the US. “The next party congress is next year, Xi Jinping is going to be replacing a whole lot of senior leaders, and the economy is slowing down,” Cheng told me. “He cannot afford to look weak.”
“The Chinese are making clear that the Paracels are theirs, both symbolically and militarily. You might as well put ‘Molon Labe‘ [‘come and take them’] on them,” Cheng said. “This is consistent with the broader Chinese effort to establish control over the South China Sea.”