On Tuesday, when American Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was asked about whether or not the U.S. would continue to operate within 12 nautical miles of China’s “man-made islands,” he said that the U.S. would continue to operate planes and sea vessels in accordance with international law. This is how the U.S. operates, and the South China Sea is not an exception. Moreover, America will continue to choose when and where it operates.
In recent days, American and Western media have continued to leak evidence of American boats entering the 12-nautical-mile areas surrounding the Chinese “man-made islands,” they have continued to challenge Chinese “island-building” behavior and the sovereignty of entities in the South China Sea. The commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Harry Harris, said that the U.S. would continue to enter the surrounding areas, and that U.S. operations had been officially approved by and reported to the president and secretary of defense.
As America prepares to intensify its operations in the South China Sea and its stance of pressure against China’s operations, China is faced with a test in how it responds to American measures.
First, it is important to clarify the substance of America’s pressure over China’s “man-made islands.” These islands have always existed. China is merely making use of them through the process of land reclamation. Island chains and the neighboring air space and sea have sovereignty rights under international law; however there is often a lack of clarity around this issue. This is the first time that major powers have had a conflict over this kind of issue.
As of today, China has yet to declare or clarify additional territorial or air space claims, and has not been intentionally attempting to expand the range of its air control. America has repeatedly said it will not recognize these islands’ air or sea space, and has also threatened to continue to monitor them. China’s low-key and restricted response has not been equal to America’s actions. America’s actions have been coercive and provocative, and are not really trying to establish freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China has already said that it would not restrict freedoms; America merely seeks to cause trouble for China in the South China Sea and to maintain its regional hegemony.
As can be seen from this, China should not sit idly by while American ships and plane continue to act recklessly in the area around China’s islands and challenge China’s territorial baseline. China needs to prepare its naval strength in case it needs to counter the American Navy’s provocative actions.
If the American military continues to appear in the surrounding area following reclamation, China needs to issue a warning. If the U.S. continues to openly infringe upon the 12-nautical-mile area or send surveillance planes into the air nearby, China must resolutely “fight back.”
China should continue to consolidate its strength in the South China Sea and to respond to America’s continuing infringement. So long as this infringement continues, China will be forced to quickly militarize the island chains, and to oppose American military interference. Once America decides to increase its wager and raise its stakes in the area, well then China must increase its ability to respond via artillery and escalate all forces which can respond to the threat facing the Nansha Island Chain.
America has explained that China has not violated any international laws by its activities in the South China Sea or in the Nansha Island chain, and thus, Washington is unable to act to stop China. The American military has ignored the reasonable nature of China’s reclamation efforts, and the benefit they have to international welfare, and instead has taken a threatening stance toward China’s efforts, even violating China’s territorial baseline. This is also a threat to China’s national sovereignty, and China has no option that allows it to stand idly by.
The Pentagon has repeatedly provoked China, and China has exercised restraint. However, if the U.S. meddles in China’s core interests, the People’s Liberation Army must stand up.
If the U.S. military still wants to try and prove its military superiority and presence in the waters near China, then it should come and try. This kind of attempt will not only test the U.S. Navy’s ability to implement the hard power of “blackmail,” but also test exactly how much resolution and determination America has. America is preparing to throw its weight around in China’s neighborhood in an attempt to maintain its hegemony; no matter the cost.
China clearly does not want to be forced to confront the U.S., but if U.S. warships intentionally antagonize China, then China cannot run and hide, and must directly face the offenders. In the end, whether it is China or America that is more forceful in consolidating its forces in the area, or whether China or America will most determinedly defend its key interests in the area, we will let the world see.
The Nansha Islands are no place for any country to act recklessly. The laws and rules of the Nansha Islands are issues between China and the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations; and American ships will not wield authority in the area. America has overestimated the power of its warships.
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