THE AMERICAN FLEET IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEAS: A COMMENT
"The US Navy this week finally made good on its promise to challenge Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. By sending an American warship within 12 miles of an artificial island that China has constructed, Washington underscored that it does not recognise Chinese claims to territorial waters lying thousands of miles from its mainland. Beijing’s reaction to the voyage of the USS Lassen was shrill — accusing the US of acting illegally and urging it to refrain from further “dangerous” and “provocative” actions. Any hint of military conflict between the two largest economies in the world, both of them nuclear-armed, needs to be taken seriously. Both sides have a responsibility to proceed with appropriate caution. But it is the US that seems to have international law and precedent on its side, in challenging the idea that the construction of artificial islands can create new territorial waters. By contrast, as it pushes its claims in the South China Sea through an island-building programme, rather than through the international legal system, Beijing is in danger of making a strategic mistake that could disrupt the peaceful trading environment that has been so crucial to its own rise".Leader, "China’s island building lacks strategic logic". The Financial Times. 28 October 2015, in www.ft.com.
"On Tuesday, following months of anticipation, the United States sent an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer into waters surrounding a man-made feature built up and occupied by China in the Spratly Islands. At about 6.40am local time, the USS Lassen sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef, in the most overt challenge to Beijing’s militarisation of maritime features in the South China Sea. The USS Lassen’s 27 October foray caps months of careful and deliberate planning by Washington, in response to Chinese reclamation activities in the Spratlys. In taking this step, the US is seeking to pursue several objectives. Firstly, the USS Lassen patrol is specific. It targets what amounts to China’s assertion of a territorial sea around reclaimed features in the Spratlys. By sending the USS Lassen so close to Subi Reef, a low-tide elevation (LTE), the US is stressing that it views the 12nm zone as high seas. Therefore, it is saying, Chinese construction on Subi Reef – and other LTEs such as the Gaven and Mischief reefs – does not entitle them to territorial seas. Secondly, the strategy behind the patrols is even-handed. Speaking to Reuters, a US defence official said that additional Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) would follow in coming weeks. These would be conducted around features that Vietnam and the Philippines have built up in the Spratlys. Lastly, the action has bolstered America’s role as the guarantor of security in the region, at a time when Asian countries, in particular the ten members of ASEAN, have found it difficult to make headway in the long-standing territorial disputes between China and claimant states Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines. Mindful of its strategic relationship with China, the US has taken a gradual and deliberate approach on the South China Sea issue. Just days before the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in late May, Washington sent a P8-A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft near reclaimed Chinese reefs in the Spratlys. At the Shangri-La Dialogue, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the US would ‘fly, sail and operate’ wherever international law allowed. He also called on all claimant states – including China – to stop reclamation works".William Choong, "US tests the waters around disputed South China Sea reef". The international institute for strategic studies. 28 October 2015, in www.iiss.org The sending of the USS Lassen into the disputed waters of the South China Seas is something to be lauded and indeed acclaimed. The move clearly demonstrates that the American Administration fully recognizes the importance of laying claim to non-recognition of Peking's maritime claims in the South China Seas and elsewhere. One may only regret that this is the first such foray into the disputed waters for several years now. The fact of the matter is that sans a steady and clear American presence in both the Eastern Pacific and the South China Seas, the Peoples Republic will endeavor to run rampant over the interests of its neighbors such as Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is only maintaining an ongoing military presence in the area that the Americans claims to be the guarantor of regional stability can be taken seriously. Without the very same, it would not be very long before almost every power in the region will commence moving closer to Peking both diplomatically and otherwise. One can only hope that this week's 'show the flag' exercise will be repeated as often as possible in the coming years.