“We need to recognize this reality that China will likely continue with its destabilizing activities unless and until it perceives that the costs of doing so outweigh the benefits.”
That quote is from US Senator and ardent war hawk John McCain and as you might have guessed, he’s referring to China’s land reclamation project in The South China Sea. On Friday, we noted that the US claims to have spotted artillery on the islands which Washington says constitutes further proof that Beijing’s efforts in the Spratlys are aimed primarily at serving a military purpose, although it's not entirely clear to anyone what that purpose might be.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter — who last week assured China that the US would sail and fly anywhere it chose — again criticized China’s activities on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue, a security event in Singapore. Carter also reportedly announced a half-billion dollar maritime security initiative presumably aimed at discouraging China from aggressively moving ahead with efforts to create sovereign territory where it did not previously exist.
WSJ has more:
Mr. Carter in his speech again called for “a lasting halt” to the land reclamation by China and others in the South China Sea, noting that the U.S., unlike China, isn’t staking any land claims in the region, but is seeking stability.
Mr. Carter also formally announced what he called a Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, likely to be funded by Congress to the tune of $425 million to help build maritime security capacity among nations in the region…
Mr. Carter noted that the other countries have built outposts in what are known as the Spratly Islands, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“Yet, one country has gone much farther and much faster than anyone other, and that’s China,” Mr. Carter said. He noted that China had built 2,000 acres of new land mass in the past 18 months.
“It is unclear how much farther China will go,” he said. “That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world.”
The DoD outlined Carter's speech and elaborated on ways the US plans to promote "collective security" including peace-promoting activites like building new long-range bombers and investing in the development of "electromagnetic railguns [and] lasers," and deploying P-8 Poseidon surveillance planes (the same plane which the Chinese Navy recently told to "Go Now!" when it came too close to the Spratlys).
Carter explained the purpose of America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific is about sustaining the progress occurring all around the region and helping it continue to fulfill its promise.
The defense secretary said he is “personally committed” to the next phase of the rebalance where DoD will deepen “long-standing alliances and partnerships,” while diversifying America’s force posture, and making new investments in key capabilities and platforms.
According to Carter, this includes investing in technologies most relevant to the complexity of the security environment there, such as new unmanned systems for the air and sea, a new long-range bomber, and other technologies like the electromagnetic railgun, lasers, and new systems for space and cyberspace.
As new systems are developed, he said, “DoD will continue to bring the best platforms and people forward to the Asia-Pacific.”
This includes, Carter said, the latest Virginia-class submarines, the Navy's P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the newest stealth destroyer, the Zumwalt, and brand-new carrier-based E-2D Hawkeye early-warning-and-control aircraft.
The defense secretary said the Asia-Pacific has never had a region-wide alliance like NATO in Europe, and encouraged partnership in promoting regional peace, stability, and security [including] enhanc[ing] the capacities of the regional security architecture, particularly on maritime security such as DoD’s new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative.
(The railgun in action)
(The P-8 Poseidon which is armed with torpedoes, cruise missiles, bombs, and mines)
The Chinese, who were also in attendance in Singapore, called Carter’s remarks “acceptable”, but when pressed about what it is exactly that Beijing is trying to accomplish in the region, the country’s delegation was allegedly vague. Here’s WSJ again:
Noting the military usefulness of the islets China is constructing in the disputed Spratly Islands, Adm. Sun Jianguo, deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army’s general staff, said they would mainly enable China to provide “international public services,” including maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, and scientific research...
“There is no reason for people to play up the issue in the South China Sea,” Adm. Sun said on Sunday at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, where discussions involving regional defense ministers and military top brass have been completely dominated by the implications of China’s island-building program. The new islands “do not target any other countries, or affect freedom of navigation,” he said…
Malaysian armed forces chief Gen. Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin said Sunday that China should do more to explain its actions and intentions in the South China Sea, after Adm. Sun dodged questions on the subject. “We do not know what they are trying to do,” Gen. Zulkifeli said, referring to Beijing’s island-building activities. “It would be good if China can come out publicly and announce what they are doing so that they can be seen to be more transparent”...
Adm. Sun didn’t answer a string of questions about whether Chinese rhetoric about seeking win-win scenarios in the South China Sea really matched China’s behavior on the ground, disappointing observers who felt that he had wasted an opportunity to explain Chinese intentions.
We'll close with the following quote from Adm. Sun about what might happen should someone navigate too closely to these public service-providing islands which "do not affect freedom of navigation":
"Whether we will establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea will depend on whether our maritime security will be threatened."