Are China And U.S. Edging Toward An Inevitable War? (Investor's Business Daily)

May 26, 2015


A Filipino soldier patrols the shore of Pag-asa Island, part of the Spratly Islands archipelago, in the South China Sea on May 11, 2015. AP

A Filipino soldier patrols the shore of Pag-asa Island, part of the Spratly Islands archipelago, in the South China Sea on May 11, 2015. AP  View Enlarged Image

Hegemony: With China making aggressive moves against its neighbors and the U.S. distracted by President Obama’s diplomatic failures, are the U.S. and China edging inevitably towards conflict? It sure looks that way.

China released a white paper on Tuesday warning that further meddling in what it sees as its areas of interest will lead to armed conflict. It makes for grim reading.

In an editorial in the Communist Party-owned Global Times, China warned: “If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt its activities, then a U.S.-China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.”

In fact, China is making major claims on that body of water and the East China Sea — claims that the U.S. State Department asserts, and we concur, are spurious and trample all notions of international law.

In the South China Sea, China already claims the Paracel and Spratly Islands — and, indeed, has told its neighbors that the entire sea surrounding Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines is, in effect, a Chinese lake. Whatever any Southeast Asian nation wants to do in its sea — shipping, military maneuvers, mining, fishing — will require China’s permission.

This is a direct challenge to the U.S., which has close ties with many nations in the area. Yet so far the U.S. has been slow to respond.

Beijing is pushing the issue. To bolster its absurd and aggressive territorial claims, China has refined a technique whereby it builds artificial islands on reefs, often including military facilities.

CNN recently reported one incident in which a U.S. Navy P-8 on routine patrol over one of the artificial islands was warned that it was violating China’s sovereignty. What made the report especially noteworthy was that the warning came from China’s military — not its civilian authorities as usual.

As Heritage Foundation analyst Dean Cheng recently noted, “Beijing has deployed military forces to these new, artificial islands and has therefore already militarized these disputes.”

This might not be so serious if not for China’s threatening military moves. In the East China Sea, “China is now building an air and naval base in the Nanji Islands, which is the closest part of China to the Senkaku Islands (which are claimed by Japan),” wrote David Archibald, a visiting fellow at the Institute of World Politics, in the American Thinker.

That’s not all. As Heritage’s Cheng has remarked, China is establishing a military presence around the world — a head-to-head challenge to U.S. Navy sea dominance.

China is building an impressive blue-water navy, deploying submarines and ships, and setting up military bases that include such far-flung locales as Djibouti, the Maldives, the Seychelles and even the Antarctic. Yes, the Antarctic.

Even its routine deployments have a menacing edge. Recently, China sent a nuclear-powered submarine to the Gulf of Aden for a routine anti-piracy patrol.

China’s President Xi Jinping is the most hawkish leader since Deng Xiaoping set the communist nation on its path to market reform. But Xi’s strident brand of nationalism could turn dangerous as China’s economic boom goes bust and long submerged social stresses return.

To its credit, the Obama administration has let it be known that it will send Navy ships and military planes into the 12-mile territorial limits of the artificial islands that China now claims as a challenge.

It’s a big risk. “The U.S. and China are now potentially closer to an armed encounter than at any time in the past 20 years,” Michael Auslin, a resident Asia scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote last week.

Will Obama, who is infamous for letting bad behavior go unpunished (just ask Syria), now talk big but let China get away with its power play?

China may well calculate that Obama is weak and preoccupied with the failures resulting from his inept policies in the Mideast, Russia and domestic U.S. economy.

As China ramps up military spending and the U.S. slashes its own, Xi may be betting that we don’t have the stomach for war. But that raises a question: If he’s wrong and China starts a war in an era of unprecedented U.S. military weakness, can we still win it?