25 November 2015
On Oct 27, USS Lassen, a guided missile destroyer, entered the 12-nautical mile zone of one of the Chinese-controlled features of the Spratly Islands, which are currently going through massive land reclamation. China immediately issued strong protests against the move by the United States. However, the Pentagon and the US Navy have stated that the so-called “freedom of navigation patrols” will become routine in the future.
Although China did not take concrete action this time to confront the US warship, future such operations could gravely destabilise the South China Sea situation and even the peace and stability of the whole region. They could touch off an unintended escalation and push the two countries towards military conflict. The logic is quite obvious.
More actions by the US Navy will corner the Chinese leadership and force them to respond to perceived provocations to its national interests and power reputation. After all, the South China Sea constitutes an essential part of China’s geostrategic interests. Moreover, China’s reputation as a great power is at stake when its key interests face a direct and deliberate challenge by another great power.
… Zhang Baohui is Professor of Political Science and Director of Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. He is the author of China’s Assertive Nuclear Posture: State Security in an Anarchic International Order (Routledge 2015). He contributed this to RSIS Commentary, where this piece first appeared.
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Last updated on 25/11/2015