Many people in America and around the world may disapprove of Donald Trump’s posture on a wide range of domestic and foreign issues, but perhaps few can disagree with his view on China’s military posturing in the South China Sea.
Tweeting on December 4, the then president-elect accused China of building “a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.”
In a recent interview with Reuters, not only did he reiterate Chinese militarization in the area, but also criticized his predecessor for allowing such an activity to happen. He told the international news agency, “Many things took place [under the Obama administration] that should not have been allowed. One of them is [Beijing’s] building of a massive, massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea.”
His comments are endorsed and expanded by many of his top aides.
During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Rex Tillerson, Mr Trump’s secretary of state nominee, likened Beijing’s construction and militarization of islands in the area to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and called China’s territorial and military expansion illegal and “extremely worrisome.” The former ExxonMobil boss added that the Obama government had failed to deal with the problem, saying such a failure “has allowed [China] to just keep pushing the envelope on this.”
Last November, two key Trump advisors, Alexander Gray and Peter Navarro, pointed out that China has built massive artificial islands in the South China Sea “with very limited American response.” They also accused the Obama administration of “pointedly” refusing to intervene in 2012 when China “brazenly” seized the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal.
At a security forum in 2015, Admiral Harry Harris noted: “While Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan have also conducted land reclamation in the South China Sea, their total — approximately 100 acres over 45 years — is dwarfed by the size, scope and scale of China’s massive buildup.”
According to the commander of US Pacific Command, “in only 18 months, China has reclaimed almost 3,000 acres.”
The extent and gravity of China’s expansionism has been recently raised by two unnamed US officials, who told Reuters that Beijing has nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea apparently intended to house surface-to-air missiles.
China always vehemently rejects any criticism of its behavior – stating that it has “indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and the adjacent waters”; that its construction activities are “normal” and that its deployment of defense facilities is “necessary” and “appropriate,” or that what it is doing in the area is only “exercising a right bestowed by international law to sovereign states.”
But it hardly seems to convince anybody.
A study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and Australia’s Strategic Forum, published late last year, underlined China’s increased expansion and militarization in the South China Sea, especially since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
According to the study, by pushing “through boundaries of international law and norms of international behavior, and [taking] much higher risks than its Western counterparts,” the Asian power is “now close to claiming effective sovereignty over” the strategic waterway and has installed “military facilities on several newly created islands” in the area.
Moreover, to “prepare the global space for [its territorial and military] expansionism,” the communist-ruled country, described as “a rising revisionist state” by this joint research, has carried out “an extensive program of psychological warfare.”
In July 2016, a United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) tribunal ruled that China’s historical claims to waters within its so-called “nine-dash line,” which covers most of the South China Sea, has “no legal basis” in international law.
It also found that “China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone [EEZ]” by conducting illegal activities, such as “constructing artificial islands” in its EEZ and that its “recent large-scale land reclamation and construction of artificial islands was incompatible with the obligations on a state during dispute resolution proceedings.”
In fact, the five-judge tribunal upheld virtually all of the Philippines’ claims against China.
As reported by regional and international media, Philippine Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said last week that China’s militarization of its man-made islands is “very unsettling.” The foreign ministers of the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) countries unanimously expressed concern over China’s installation of weapons systems in the South China Sea at the recent Asean meeting in Philippines.
Though, as usual, Chinese officials and media quickly criticized such remarks, Yasay’s comments highlighted anxiety over Beijing’s recent moves among regional countries.
Indeed, China’s maritime behavior is – or should be – a real concern for not only the region but also the US. If its territorial and military expansion continues at the recent rate without any meaningful opposition from the US and other concerned countries, sooner or later, China will fully control the area, which is, besides its abundance in natural resources, one of the world’s most commercially and strategically vital waterways
China has already effectively controlled the Paracel Islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam. It sent fighter jets to and installed surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and a radar system on Woody Island, the Paracels’ largest atoll. Should it complete the deployment of SAMs, radar sites and other defense facilities on its already man-made bases in the Spratlys, and specially carry out reclamation and similar installations on Scarborough Shoal – China will establish effective control of both open sea and airspace throughout the South China Sea.
At a ministerial meeting of the Asean Regional Forum in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2010, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
From the US perspective, Clinton’s then view, which infuriated China, but delighted many regional countries concerned about Beijing’s maritime aggressiveness, remains true. If the South China Sea is under China’s complete control, America will no longer be able to sail, fly and operate freely in and above the international waters of this strategic sea. Consequently, its regional influence will be weakened and its power threatened.
Beijing always warns the US and other non-South China Sea nations, notably Japan and Australia, its two key regional allies, to stay out of the dispute. A reason for this is that, without the involvement of these external powers, China finds it much easier to deal with its smaller and weaker neighbors. Another – if not the fundamental – reason behind Beijing’s strategy, as noted by the report of the CSBA and the Strategic Forum, “is to push Western forces and strategic influence out of the South China Sea.” It has so far been significantly successful on both fronts.
All in all, Mr Trump and his advisors have rightly described China’s land reclamation, facility construction and defense installation in the South China Sea. Their concerns over Beijing’s territorial and military expansion are legitimate. They are also probably right to blame the Obama administration for Chinese adventure.
The crucial question is what the Trump administration can or should do to stop or deter such assertive and aggressive behavior.
It is apparent that America will first try to restrain China by diplomatic means, which will require Russian and European cooperation, to force China to exit from the South China Sea voluntarily. If this fails, America might try the military means I believe.
"According to the study, by pushing “through boundaries of international law and norms of international behavior, "
Oh puleeeze. i suppose that the US starting 13 wars just since the end of the Second World War. Interfering with, regieme change, bombings, attacking, invading and occupying more than 61 countries since the end of WW2 are to be considered within the boundaries of international law and norms of behaviour. So think tanks and the US Government think that what China is doing on it´s own turf is aggressive behaviour? What a farce, what hypocricy given US actions around the world. At the very least what China is doing cannot be considered aggressive behaviour but defensive behaviour in the face a real and present danger of military attack from the most militant and militarily aggressive nation on earth with a penchant for invading and occupying countries at will.
So give us a break from this constant rain of bullroar. China is in the South China Sea, not in the Gulf of Mexico. The Chinese military is in the South China Sea not the Gukf of Mexico. The US military is in the South China Sea, in China´s face. What does this writer expect of China , that it will just turn the other cheek as it did for the last 500 years of European and American aggression against her? That boat has sailed. China is no longer the prostrate giant getting kicked around by the white race. It is on it´s feet and able to defend itself.
International law and international norms? Really!!! What a joke, when those laws and norms do not apply to the US and the rest of NATO, but only to nations with black or brown populations.
500 hundred years of the US and European aggression against China? Neat trick being how the US is only about 250 years old and for the first 100 years had almost no military to speak of.
The US invaded and occupied 61(!!) counteries since WW2? Trying hard not to laugh on that one, please provide a list of countries with details and I suppose I’ll be educated on this mythical knowledge you posess.
News flash for ya buddy China has been getting it’s butt kicked by all kinds of peoples for THOUSANDS of years. Did you think the last emperor of China was Han Chinese? He was a outsider, the last link in a FOREIGN (Manchu) dynasty that ruled China for over a hundred years. Before him there were one after another foreign invaders (Mongols anyone?) that ruled China for over 600 of the past 1,000 years, no white people involved
You might want to read up on actual Chinese history before spewing this revised PRC historical talking point garbage they try and get everyone to buy into and feel sorry for poor China.
John de Paulis
I see that you have a serious reading comprehension problem.I was going to take the time and explain my comment to you bit by bit, but then, since you do have that reading comprehension problem why bother.
But I would suggest that you reread what I had to say and think it over you might just get it after a while-
The US has deployed military flights close to violating air space and has under Obama and plans under
Trump to be more agressive by sea to challenge Chinas meritime borders. Even the diplomatic talks , the US is basically asking China to give up its boarders , because the US requests it. What the US wants is to offset its own decline and stop China’s rise to a world power that surpasses the US. , who’s only power is its military stance. Should China stop its land reclamation and submit the US would still eventually seek to make more demands. The US main goal is to block the South China Sea so China can be strangled and isolated from import export by sea. And in a war it can be blockaded easily with out a military attack.
I notice u changed Thomas words around from his statement from European and US to Us and European. U need to know your history to understand the significance or switching those two around. China had war with Europe way before the US which explains Thomas saying 500 yrs . There is nothing mythical about US imperialism, get real sir. There were numerous covert wars in South and Central America after WWII. One small example , do you not remember the Iran Contra Affair, or the covert operation in Chile that brought down a democratic elected government and installed Pennocet as a military dictator in Chile. The assisination of the President of Vietnam authorized by Kennedy to have the CIA arrange his removal to destabilize the government and country, eventually leading to the false flag Gulf of Tonkin to initiate the declaration of war on Vietnam. The list of war an lies for thier justification seem endless. No one is trying to feel sorry for China. What is happening by the mouths of the powers that be in the US is the making of a world war III that would create the exchange of modern day nuclear weapons , that no one will win at, especially the civilian population of the entire globe. Just because world capitalism is failing again and has no solution for its decline except war and militarism to off set its problem. As for reclamation of the islands which are in Chinas borders, they did not start doing this until , Mrs Hitlery secretary of state went over there and started making speaches to other asian nations to stand up to China and the beginnings to promote the TPP that Obama initiated with no invite for China to join. Specifically to offset Asian partnerships that was formed for asian countries only for trade. Sir you are truley , as I ve herd it said a bonified wonderlander, pure and simple. Obviously endoctrinated with wonderland hubris and education , swallowed hook line and sinker. No offense but thats just my opinion Dont worry , your not alone in the class room of the nieve in the grand old USofA. im sure Mr Kuhn could have done a better job than I at ad lib on historical markers to offset your claims. I hope i have been sufficient enough .
I might also ad in responce to your last statement. "If this fails, America might try the military means I believe." The US most certainly will , absolutely no doubt about it. And I see you are from Ontario Canada. They will also drag Canada into it also being an allie of the US. We shouldnt forget the allie portfolio., and the statement that an attack on one is an attack on all. This same scenario is what kicked off WWI and WWII both wlith in very short time spans of a single incident that sparked the flames of two devestating world wars.
Check into reading History of the United States by Howard Zinn or Sorrows of the Empire by Chalmers Johnson or Blow Back by Chalmers Johnson I may not have his name spelled correctley.
Breaking news: China is an imperial power. Sinicization by the Han has been ongoing for thousands of years. Review the history of the Miao minority whose conflict with the Han resembles the history of Native Americans vs. Europeans. More recently, what do you think has been happening in Tibet or Xinjiang (Uyghurs)? By definition, it’s genocide. Thus the new China looks a lot like its older versions.
"China is no longer the prostrate giant getting kicked around by the white race. It is on it´s feet and able to defend itself."
Right, but their defense is offense to their neighbors. It is also obvious that the intense patriotism of their populous and the gi-normous military expenditures, is a dangerous combination that demands a powerful response from the international community. They’re a totalitarian regime remember. And history, once learned, doesn’t need to repeat itself.
"the gi-normous military expenditures," Really? They spend 20% of what the US spends every year on their military. Know why it is not more? It is because they are not attacking, invading and occupying countries all over the planet like the US is doing. Also it does not have over 800 military bases in 160 countries around the world to support.
I forgot to add that the "Polar Bear" in this video is a perfect metaphor for the US Military which has not managed to win a war since the Second World War and the Second World War was overwhelmingly fought and won by Russia. The US, Great Britain and the Western allies faced just ten divisions of the German Army while Russia fought and defeated more than 360 divisions. So the US never won that one either.
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