This is one situation which thankfully hasn’t blown up in our faces (at least yet) but it’s worth keeping an eye on. While most of the world’s attention is on the chaos playing out in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis / invasion of Europe, China has remained busy building military facilities on their artificial islands in the South China Sea. On one such base they have nearly completed a runway and have begun tests involving landing some jets there. A US admiral spoke up about it this week and essentially warned the Chinese that we’re not going to be backing off from our routine flights and naval patrols in the area and they’re only ratcheting up tensions with this program. (Yahoo News)
Any move by China to fly jet fighters from runways on its new man-made islands in the disputed South China Sea would be destabilizing and would not deter U.S. flights over the area, a senior U.S. naval officer said on Monday.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet, also urged Beijing to be more open over its intentions in the South China Sea, saying it would relieve “some of the angst we are now seeing”.
“We are unsure where they are taking us,” Aucoin said of China’s recent moves during briefing with journalists in Singapore.
“So we are going to sail, fly, operate throughout these waters….like we have been doing for so long,” he said.
The Spratlys Archipelago is the focus of these efforts and our guys have concluded that the Chinese plan to begin flying military jets in and out of the new base within the next month. This makes for some additional tense moments (since we were so short on those already) because our own fighters routinely patrol the area. We’ve sailed past these “islands” twice now and China recently lodged a complaint about one of our bombers flying directly overhead.
If there’s a saving grace in all of this it’s that the Chinese are unlikely to push things too far. The waters in question are disputed in terms of ownership by several nations, including some allies of ours. Also, vast amounts of trade goods sail through the South China Sea every year and anything that endangered the safe passage of all that merchandise, oil and other goods would hurt China a lot more than us. But it still leaves one to wonder why the Chinese are choosing to be so aggressive as compared to years past. They don’t seem particularly impressed by the United States’ ability to project power abroad any more and they’re acting that way with impunity.
I’ll leave you to figure out why that might be.