THE SINO-AMERICAN CONFRONTATION IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEAS: A COMMENT
"The US accused Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday of breaking a pledge not to militarise the South China Sea after satellite images showed the deployment of anti-aircraft missiles to one of the islands China controls. John Kerry, US secretary of state, said the Obama administration would have a “very serious conversation” with China about its growing military presence in the South China Sea. Civilian satellite images showed the apparent presence of two missile batteries on Woody Island in the Paracel island chain, the latest sign of escalating tensions between the US and China in the South China Sea, which have included two patrols in recent months by the US navy near disputed land features. Responding to reports about the missile deployments, Mr Kerry referred on Wednesday to the September statement by the Chinese leader about the South China Sea during a visit to the White House. “When President Xi was here in Washington, he stood in the Rose Garden with President Obama and said China will not militarise in the South China Sea,” he said. “But there is evidence every day that there has been an increase of militarisation of one kind or another. It’s of serious concern.” Mr Kerry added that, “we will have more to say on this in the next days for sure".”.Geoff Dyer, "US rebukes China for ‘militarisation’ of South China Sea". The Financial Times. 18 February 2016, in www.ft.com.
"Sovereignty, at its most basic, means physical control of territory and airspace within certain lines inscribed on the map. Physical supremacy in the South China Sea would let Beijing dictate the rules whereby ships and aircraft pass through regional waters and skies. It would also let Beijing reserve the right to close Southeast Asian sea routes to foreign shipping should it see the need — making one of the world’s great nautical thoroughfares a no-go zone. So enough with the tit-for-tat debate over who militarized what in Southeast Asia. Navies are the guardians of freedom of the sea. When someone lodges unlawful claims, navies flout those claims to keep them from calcifying into international practice and, perhaps, into customary international law. China, therefore, can always claim America was the first to militarize the South China Sea controversy — a controversy that China itself created by challenging freedom of the seas. If Beijing won this point, it’s a trivial one. It’s doubtful anyone will buy the narrative that a hegemonic United States is bullying poor little China. And on and on the Clausewitzian dialogue by displays of force will go. To reply to China’s HQ-9 challenge, the United States and its Asian allies must demonstrate that they can exercise maritime freedoms despite the worst the PLA can throw at them. They should also ponder how to prove that they could take down Chinese missile sites should the worst come. If they do that, they may make believers of the Chinese and other observers—and bolster their likelihood of deterring future Chinese misconduct".James Holmes, "The Great Debate: What makes just 16 missiles such a deadly threat in the South China Sea". Reuters. 19 February 2016, in www.reuters.com. One does not have to be especially distrustful of the regime in power in Peking to not take seriously the protestation of the Peoples Republic that it is the Americans and their allies who are at fault in the question of the arming of the South China Seas. By definition it is Peking's recently moves first to endeavor to exercise by intimidation and to a small degree force spurious claims to islands in the South Seas, then to militarize them, which are at fault. All of Peking's claims that:
"It is Washington that is fanning up the flames by flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and by emboldening nations in their territorial disputes with China" 1.Would be laughably absurd if the situation were not so serious. Au fond of course Peking is playing the role of a spoiler and a paper tiger. If the Americans and their allies were to seriously challenge Chinese via various military exercises akin to what the Americans did in the Formosa Straits circa 1995, we would see soon enough that Peking would stage a very quick retreat. The motivations for Peking's policy being a mixture of primat der Aussenpolitik and primat der Innenpolitik. With the latter variable having more influence no doubt over Peking's policy then the former. What has to be avoided at all costs is a feckless policy of appeasement, in which the United States fails to exercise the requisite amount of leadership and strength to confront the PRC. Left to itself, without the appropriate response by the Americans and their allies, Peking will of course feel emboldened to stretch its military muscles more and more, not less and less. As the petit-histoire of this issue of the past half-dozen years clearly shows. As the late, great scholar (if morally not so great) Edward Hallet Carr once aptly put it almost eighty years ago in 1939:
"Military power, being an essential element in the life of the state, becomes not only an instrument but an end in itself. Few of the wars of the last hundred years seem to have been waged for the deliberate and conscious purpose of increasing either trade or territory....It is perhaps for this reason that the exercise of power always begets the appetite for more power 2."1. Zhu Dongyang, "Commentary: FM's visit to remind Washington of China's core interests". Xinhua. 23 February 2016 in www.news.xinhuanet.com/english 2. E. H. Carr. The 20 years' Crisis, 1919-1939. (1939). pp. 111-112.