It's On: Obama Sends Destroyer To Chinese Islands, China Vows Military Response

Tyler Durden's picture

Update: According to reports in on Monday evening, the USS Lassen has indeed sailed within 12 nautical miles of China's islands in the Spratlys.

As WSJ notes, "an American defense official confirmed Monday that the U.S. Navy ship navigated through the waters around at least one of the land masses to which China lays claim within the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea, crossing an area that China maintains is part of its sovereign territory." 

WSJ also reiterates that this isn't likely to be a one-off event. As noted below, most "experts" believe that in order for this to be effective from a deterrence standpoint, the US will need to step up the patrols, presumably in an effort to prove to Beijing that the Pentagon is "serious", whatever that means in this context. 

The ball is now squarely in China's court. The PLA has already promised to "stand up and use force" in the event its territorial sovereignty is violated. The question now is whether Beijing will back down and concede that "sovereignty" somehow means something different with regard to the islands than it does with respect to the mainland or whether Xi will stick to his guns (no pun intended) and take a pot shot at a US destroyer. 


For anyone who might still be somehow unaware, the US is currently in a superpower staring match with both Russia and China. The conflict in Syria has put Moscow back on the geopolitical map (so to speak), creating an enormous amount of tension with Washington whose regional allies have been left to look on in horror as Russian airstrikes and an Iranian ground incursion dash hopes of ousting President Bashar al-Assad. 

Meanwhile, in The South China Sea, Beijing has built 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory atop reefs in the Spratlys and although the reclamation effort itself isn’t unique, the scope of it most certainly is and Washington’s friends in the South Pacific are crying foul.

Beijing has continually insisted that it doesn’t intend to use the islands as military outposts, but the construction of runways and ports seems to tell a different story and so, Washington felt compelled to check things out over the summer by sending a Poseidon spy plane complete with a CNN crew to the area. Once the PLA spotted the plane the situation escalated quickly with the Chinese Navy telling US pilots to “Go Now!” 

After that, an intense war of words developed with Defense Secretary Ash Carter insisting that the US would sail and fly anywhere it pleased and Beijing assuring the US that sailing within 12 nautical miles of the islands would prompt a harsh response from the PLA. 

For weeks, the US was rumored to have been planning a freedom of navigation exercise in the Spratlys which, as we’ve pointed out several times this month, amounts to sailing by the islands just to see if China will shoot. 

Now, according to CNN, Obama has given the green light and the ships may sail within 24 hours: 

And more from FT:

The US navy is poised to start freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea in a high-stakes effort to push back against Chinese territorial claims over artificial islands in the disputed waters.


In a move that will enrage Beijing, the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, will sail inside the 12-nautical mile zones of two man-made islands — Subi and Mischief reefs — that China has built in the contested Spratly Island chain. A senior US defence official said it would sail through the area in the early hours of Tuesday morning.


China has repeatedly warned that it would not tolerate any effort to violate what it considers its territory. Earlier this month, a senior Chinese naval officer said the People’s Liberation Army would hand a “head-on blow” to any foreign forces that violated Chinese sovereignty. His comments came after the Financial Times reported that the US was poised to launch its operations.


The manoeuvre will mark the first time since 2012 that the US navy has sailed through the 12-nautical mile zone surrounding any islands claimed by China. It is aimed at demonstrating that Washington does not recognise any territorial claims over artificial islands in the South China Sea.

It's also worth noting that should the US manage to get away with this without sparking a shooting war with the Chinese, it now looks as though Washington is leaning toward making this a regular patrol. Here's a bit of color from Reuters out over the weekend: 

A range of security experts said Washington's so-called freedom of navigation patrols would have to be regular to be effective, given Chinese ambitions to project power deep into maritime Southeast Asia and beyond.


"This cannot be a one-off," said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore's Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.


"The U.S. navy will have to conduct these kinds of patrols on a regular basis to reinforce their message."


But China would likely resist attempts to make such U.S. actions routine, some said, raising the political and military stakes. China's navy could for example try to block or attempt to surround U.S. vessels, they said, risking an escalation.

(USS Lassen)

Here are the latest visuals from Subi and Mischief (the two islands mentioned above):

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this borders on the insane. Here we have both Washington and Beijing risking an outright military confrontation over what amount to a couple of sandcastles and while there's probably some truth to the contention that China has plans for the islands that go beyond growing plants, building lighthouses, and raising pigs, it's not as though the PLA is going to invade The Philippines so at the end of the day, this looks like another example of what Vladimir Putin recently suggested is evidence that the world is losing its collective mind.

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FreeShitter's picture

Obama the fucking pussy won't do shit.....what scares me, are the neocons like that pink fucking tumor john mcinsane and co. The economy is getting worse so war is all that's left.

Payne's picture

Seriously would hate to be on that ship for that cruise.  

The Black Bishop's picture



"over what amount to a couple of sandcastles"




This is about control over any and all oil/gas resources in the contested area. The sandcastles are territorial markers and strategic points for China. This is China taking back control over its backyard and kicking the US screaming and hollering out the door.


The US Navy will get totally obliterated if they try this shit. China will make a point out of this and they will be in their right in regards to international law. A military incursion of their waters is an act of war by the US.

Haus-Targaryen's picture

Worst case scenario the ship gets borded, sailed around a bit on orders from the Chinese back to "international waters" and everyone goes on their way.  

svayambhu108's picture

Probably that destroyer will learn that on the bottom of the sea is written: Made in China

DeadFred's picture

Early Tuesday morning there is right now... and the options market is closed!!

Deathrips's picture

And 3 Chinese "Warships" will be here in Florida for *advance* payment for the kabuki theater they are participating in.

Im thinking....GOLD. Physical kind.


kananga's picture

Is the china man in this picture our china man or their china man? 

10mm's picture

Only takes one to get it going.

Crash Overide's picture

It's called the South "China" Sea right?

Pretty far from America,

bigkahuna's picture

"Better send more than one!"

You are right - if only one goes, that ship is going to be boarded and confiscated. We'll get the crew back in about a month.

Max Steel's picture

Very interesting. Theoretically, situation looks a lot like pre first Punic war when Carthage naval superiority was denying and not allowing Rome to win until Rome took to destroy Carthaginian Naval power in direct confrontation. With US naval power destroyed or seriously damaged US proper might become vulnerable. But considering that it is US that needs something from others simple denial of access might do the job. Considering US financial situation and that US army and Navy are financed on  other people's money going after this might be more effective. We do remember how quickly Soviet military went from premier power to total mess in 90's.

Money is a blood of all things military.

Nick Veritas's picture

The author is DEAD WRONG here:"Here we have both Washington and Beijing risking an outright military confrontation over what amount to a couple of sandcastles..."

Even the UN recognizes the fact that building up an undersea reef to become an island will garner it the SAME territorial rights it had BEFORE becoming an island. This means there is likely no 12 mile standoff for some of the islands (the 2 the Navy picked to test are in this category) and there can certaily never be an 200 NM EEZ! Unless America stands up to this, China will control the international navigation in the Sout China Sea. The author must have no military or even diplomatic background. Give me the same resources and i would write a much better article than this pacifist hack.

I would not be surprised to hear of a US ship being sunk by mines as they are more passive aggressive.

jeff montanye's picture

you wouldn't be surprised to hear of a u.s. ship sunk by mines?  

not even a little?


847328_3527's picture

When does Barry start confiscating all those Chinese-owned McMansions in Kalifornia?

jeff montanye's picture

the day after the first bankster gets jailed?

techpreist's picture

Kahuna, you remind me of my International Affairs 101 course, when we were studying Berlin in the Cold War:

"We didn't put troops there to defend against the Communists. We put them there to die nobly so we could justify total war."

jeff montanye's picture

that's a distinction without a difference.  mad was the primary defense against the soviets.

bigkahuna's picture

Unfortunately, it is like gambling - sometimes you up the ante to keep your competition at bay. Sometimes they go away, sometimes they call, sometimes they raise. 

In this case it looks like we sent a destroyer through at a decent risk. If the Chinese do nothing here - they are going to look weak militarily. They acted like they would do something but did nothing? That will lose face.

wizteknet's picture

3 big ones are coming, glad this getting interesting!

Occident Mortal's picture

The problem here is that there is no element of surprise so expect the Chinese to have a plan.

Imagine they hack / board the USS Larson and sail it into a Chinese port and place all the sailors under arrest.

Remember this ...

Husk-Erzulie's picture

"Them that draws to straights and flushes, travel home on city busses"

This is stupid.  I don't suppose team zero has gamed what the hell they think is going to happen if China calls their bluff (outside chance but still...) uhhh, nope.

Stuck on Zero's picture

How do you board a ship which can go faster than anything in the Chinese navy? 

TBT or not TBT's picture

This should be an international armada.sailing through there.   Freedom of navigation of the seas has to stay affirmed any and every time it is challenged.  But if the USA has to assert this point alone, so be it.  

BurningFuld's picture

Who exactly is not free to navigate these waters? Excluding the US Navy of course.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Seems we are about to find out.  

two hoots's picture

There are about 300 miles of open water west of the new sand islands (centered in the Spartly Islands) and unless I'm missing something most ships can freely navigate through that?  Small islands saturate the area and the east side but does not restirct any access to the Philipines or its islands.  There is more too this than freedom of navigation.

fudge's picture

hey wanker, maybe you should grab a rowboat and show us how it's done.

TBT or not TBT's picture

Cause that'ts not my fuckin job.  My country has a navy, and it has the job of going anywhere and everywhere in tinternational waters, but especially such waters as suddenly become contested illegetimately.   Its what they do.  

fudge's picture

LoL, your girlie flaps don't hang low enough that's the problem, only cowards send others to die. You're nothing but big mouthed pindoscoward.

two hoots's picture

With all of our recent military actions going so well, what could possibly go wrong here?

Pure Evil's picture

Well, I hope the Chinese don't end up shooting cause Obama might have to issue an executive order to confiscate all the Chinese guns.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) Pure Evil Oct 26, 2015 6:34 PM

Even stranger the Chinese demanded the US collect our guns.

Lorca's Novena's picture

Via a twitter 


"I king Obola declare this tweet a formal warning to immediately turn in all your guns!"

Fukushima Fricassee's picture
Fukushima Fricassee (not verified) InjectTheVenom Oct 26, 2015 5:39 PM

>> Peace prize 2

>> Put a queer nigger behind the trigger

Fukushima Fricassee's picture
Fukushima Fricassee (not verified) Fukushima Fricassee Oct 26, 2015 5:42 PM

But seriously, if that stupid fucking idiot really beleives "global climate change is the worlds biggest threat". Then he must beleive the rising seas will solve his problem. Right?

Perimetr's picture

Don't forget to take the nuclear briefcase to the golf course.

Cast Iron Skillet's picture

that doesn't seem that bad. I think the worst case would be it gets sunk or shot up, prompting some kind of retaliatory attack, which causes another round of escalation ... and before you know it, Walmart is out of business.

grunk's picture

I thought Walmart was doing that without a war.

Eyeroller's picture

And Yellen is off the hook for the crash.