Imagine two children on a beach. One has built a sandcastle. The other kicks it over. They get into a fight.
That’s exactly what’s going on in The South China Sea right now between Beijing and Washington.
Earlier this week, the US sent a guided missile destroyer on a “let’s see if we can get shot” mission in the South Pacific. The idea, as regular readers are no doubt aware, was to use “freedom of navigation” as an excuse to sail within 12 nautical miles of China’s man-made islands in the Spratlys.
Those islands represent the construction of some 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory on which Beijing has built everything from airstrips to cement factories to lighthouses. Washington’s regional allies all but swear that the PLA is planning an imminent invasion and Beijing swears the islands are a largely innocent construction project. These competing accounts underscore the extent to which no one is telling the whole truth.
Caught in the middle, Big Brother decided it was time to show the world that despite being kicked out of the Mid-East and being bullied by Beijing, no one really wants to go to war with Washington and so, America’s Nobel Peace Prize winning President sent a warship to Subi Reef.
And then, nothing happened.
The USS Lassen wasn’t fired upon or surrounded which was good news for anyone who doesn’t wish to live through World War III.
But while cooler heads prevailed in Beijing, the suggestion that the US (and possibly Australia) are set to make these “patrols” a regular occurrence has riled China and on a teleconference between naval commanders, Admiral Wu Shengli told US chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson that this needs to stop now unless the US wants to go to war. Here’s Reuters with the story:
China's naval commander told his U.S. counterpart that a minor incident could spark war in the South China Sea if the United States did not stop its "provocative acts" in the disputed waterway, the Chinese navy said on Friday.
Admiral Wu Shengli made the comments to U.S. chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson during a video teleconference on Thursday, according to a Chinese naval statement.
The two officers held talks after a U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of one of Beijing's man-made islands in the contested Spratly archipelago on Tuesday.
China has rebuked Washington over the patrol, the most significant U.S. challenge yet to territorial limits China effectively claims around its seven artificial islands in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.
"If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war," the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.
"(I) hope the U.S. side cherishes the good situation between the Chinese and U.S. navies that has not come easily and avoids these kinds of incidents from happening again," Wu said.
The problem is that the US has no choice but to "continue with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts," because if it doesn't, The Philippines and other regional allies will lose all faith in Washington's supposed omnipotence and invincibility and while we imagine The White House secretly thinks this "is not the time for courage" (to borrow an epic Gartman-ism), courageous the US must now be lest Beijing and Moscow should swiftly banish US hegemony to the annals of history.