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Tensions Rise as China Closes Much of the South China Sea

Are Beijing’s military operations in the South China Sea part of the whole-of-Asia plan, and is Taiwan next?

China is relentless in threatening the South China Sea region. In yet another attempt to exert sovereignty over the Paracel islands and the surrounding waters, the Chinese announced military exercises in the middle of the waterway from July 1 – 5.  Liberty Nation has been at the forefront, covering Beijing’s menacing behavior in and around the South China Sea. This time the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has shut down maritime traffic in a significant portion of one of the busiest sea lanes in the world. China’s neighbors have expressed concern at the PRC’s vast maritime grab that will secure a share of Beijing’s “Silk Road” portion of China’s “One Belt, One Road” concept of economic and military dominance.

China’s bullying tactics in the South Asian waterway could be part of a more significant strategy testing the resolve of the U.S. and the unity of the regional neighbors. But there is a more complex and integrated method to Beijing’s maritime operations. According to a Reuters staff report, knowledgeable sources inside China report that “The Chinese military is planning to conduct a large-scale landing drill off Hainan Island in the South China Sea in August to simulate the possible seizure of the Taiwanese-held Pratas Island.”

Taiwan’s security as an independent state is a tripwire for the U.S. in its overall Pacific defense strategy. If the Peoples Liberation Army intends to establish a substantial presence in the South China Sea as a prelude to a takeover of Taiwan, that is a huge national security problem.

Additionally, to stir the maritime tensions pot more, Radio Free Asia in a May 1, 2020 dispatch by reporter Drake Long explains that China has unilaterally placed a summer fishing ban in the South China Sea, and this has Vietnam and the Philippines hopping mad. According to RFA, the Chinese are “vowing strict enforcement of its annual summer fishing ban in parts of the contested South China Sea.” The bans have been in place before, but the restrictions have been more symbolic, with no violators being detained or arrested. This summer, it appears that China is taking a much harder line. One cannot help but believe that the Chinese are just itching for a fight.

Other Asian nations also have reacted to China’s activities. As reported in the Japan Times, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders issued a statement, and “their strongest remarks opposing China’s claim to virtually the entire disputed waters on historical grounds.” Vietnam took the lead in making the ASEAN ten-nation bloc position clear: “We reaffirmed that the 1982 UNCLOS is the basis for determining maritime entitlements, sovereign rights, jurisdiction, and legitimate interests over maritime zones.”

The statement refers to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This international agreement lays out what nations can claim as international sovereignty and what boundaries exist for commercial fishing and oil exploration. The ASEAN leaders went further in the statement, confirming, “UNCLOS sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.”

The ASEAN statement’s importance is that it establishes a collaborative foundation among allies and friends that the U.S. presence in the region can support. All too often, the U.S. finds itself in the lead on regional security issues only to turn and find that it is facing China alone. With China’s blatant pursuit of hegemonic interests, the regional allies and friends and the U.S. are united. So, when China shut down much of the South China Sea, the U.S. Pacific Fleet acted.

Most recently, the U.S. responded to China’s belligerence in the South China Sea and the resulting increased tension in the region by deploying three aircraft carrier strike groups. The USS Nimitz, the USS Ronald Reagan, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Groups gathering in the area as a demonstration of power counters what is clearly a real geo-military competitive gambit by China.  As described by Paul McLeary in Breaking Defense, “The three carriers give Washington a significant boost in presence and firepower in the region after going months without a carrier presence in the western Pacific.”

It’s not merely a show of strength; the presence of three carrier strike groups demonstrates a commitment to America’s friends and allies in the region. The firepower of three carrier strike groups is formidable. The aircraft carrier, with its air wing on board that includes a combination of 60-70 attack fighters and support aircraft, is generally accompanied by a cruiser and two destroyers or frigates. A three-carrier-strike-groups-armada is a considerable naval force and one not to be trifled with.

Nonetheless, Beijing is not deterred from being troublesome. At this time, however, the U.S. is present in force in the PRC’s sandbox, or backyard pool in this case, as a block to China’s mischief. However, as Liberty Nation has reported, with China’s military buildup going on at a record pace, the U.S. presence as a deterrent may not be enough in the future.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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Read more from Dave Patterson.

Read More From Dave Patterson

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