23 February 2017
Are Xi’s China and Trump’s America on a collision course toward war? It may certainly feel that way sometime. China under Xi Jinping has become more intransigent and more assertive – aggressive even – when it comes to promoting its self-perceived national interests. This is seen in its push for such China-centric initiatives as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the “One Belt/One Road” plan.
Nowhere is this assertiveness more evident, however, than when it comes to Beijing’s claims of “indisputable sovereignty” over much of the South China Sea. Moreover, this increasingly volatile rhetoric is being matched with increasingly provocative acts in adjacent seas and airspaces, from stalking the USNS Impeccable in March 2009, harassing Philippine and Vietnamese fishing boats, establishing the Sansha administrative prefecture and garrison within the Paracel and Spratly islands, and, finally, constructing a number of artificial islands on various reefs – including several with runways – in the Spratlys, in contravention of international law.
The US response – which, admittedly, predates the Trump presidency – has been restrained but equally emphatic. In particular, the US military has conducted a number of naval and aerial FONOPs (“freedom of navigation operations”) in the South China Sea, in order to demonstrate that Washington does not recognize China’s unilateral assertions of sovereignty. Other US allies, particularly Australia and Japan, have conducted similar patrols in the region.
… Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The opinions expressed here are his own.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 24/02/2017