Earlier this week, the USS Lassen managed to sail by China’s man-made islands in the Spratlys without getting shot at or surrounded.
The fact that China did not move to challenge the US-flagged guided-missile destroyer was a relief for those who aren’t keen on living through World War III and as hyperbolic as that might sound, it was just this month that Beijing threatened to “stand up and use force” in the event Washington went through with the “freedom of navigation” exercise.
Of course as we outlined previously, the PLA will get plenty of other opportunities, as most security “experts” believe that in order to be “effective” (whatever that means in this context), the US will need to keep up the patrols suggesting the world could be in for a prolonged period of heightened tensions that threaten to spiral out of control on any given “pass-by.”
For anyone unfamiliar, all of this comes courtesy of Beijing’s land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea which have by now led to the creation of more than 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory on which China has constructed runways, cement factories, and all manner of other facilities. This has led Washington’s regional allies to cry foul and now, Big Brother is essentially just sailing around the islands to see if China will shoot.
As silly as that sounds, it’s become one of the more important geopolitical stories of the year and now, as WSJ reports, it looks like Australia might get involved as well. Here’s more:
Australian defense planners are looking at the possibility of a naval sail-through close to China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea, in case the government decides to follow its close ally the U.S. in testing Beijing’s territorial claims.
“Australia has been looking at options,” said one official in Australia’s military familiar with operational planning.
Another defense official, who has been involved in a military blueprint about the South China Sea for Australia’s
Defense Minister Marise Payne, confirmed that plans for possible naval operations or flights by maritime patrol aircraft had been prepared, though said there is no immediate intent to put them into play. “At this stage, it’s only been looking at what we could do,” the second official said. The military had been looking at options including a sail-through for months, the person said, as tensions in the South China Sea intensified.
Australia has two naval frigates in the South China Sea region—the HMAS Arunta and HMAS Stuart—which have been scheduled to carry out exercises alongside Chinese warships over the next week, as a naval confidence-building exercise.
More from The Journal:
Peter Jennings, the executive director of the government-backed security think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said he expected most U.S. regional allies would follow with their own exercises to assert freedom of navigation, although few would telegraph movements in advance for operational security reasons.
“I think it is now critical we follow this up so that we don’t just leave it to the United States on what is an issue worrying countries from the Philippines to Vietnam,” said Mr. Jennings, a former Australian intelligence analyst.
So there are two main takeaways here. First, as WSJ also points out, China is Australia's largest trade partner and as we've seen recently with Russia and Turkey, geopolitical tensions and the egos and irrationality that often accompany them have a way of derailing trade at significant costs to all involved.
Second, this, like Syria, is now another dispute into which multiple world powers are being drawn and with each new participant, the chances of some manner of "mistake" increase exponentially.
We close with some characteristically bombastic rhetoric out of Beijing:
"Australia and the U.S. should not light a fire and add fuel to the flames."