China and America have recently come closer to having a military confrontation in the South China Sea. As suggested by the radio post received from the British Ministry of Defense, there was a tense showdown between a US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer “Decatur” and a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy Type 052C Luyang II-class destroyer in the South China Sea in late September. (Business Insider)
What is claimed by US Navy a routine ‘freedom-of-navigation operation’, was according to Beijing’s ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming, “a serious infringement of China’s sovereignty”. (South China Morning Post)
According to CNN, the US Navy destroyer sailed near the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese vessel came as close as 45 m of the USS Decatur and threatened to confront if the USS vessel would not change the course. Such encounters are not uncommon between China and USA. There have been 18 such aggressive military or naval encounters between China and US since 2016. (CNN: Politics)
Earlier in a similar episode of freedom of navigation operation a British warship HMS Albion had sailed near the disputed Paracel Islands in South China Sea, at the end of August. The Chinese foreign office had protested this move as a “provocative action”. (South China Morning Post)
China had dispatched a frigate to deter and possibly confront the UK Royal Navy amphibious assault ship forcing it to change its course. The Chinese authorities warned the external regional powers that it would “take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and security.” (Business Insider)
The rising tensions between US and Chinese Naval forces in South China Sea have caused cancelation of the meeting between the Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe and the US Defense Secretary James Mattis. (Reuters)
The meeting is rescheduled again next week in Washington amid a withering trust. Mr. James Mattis has vowed not to surrender “freedom of navigation” while Wei Fenghe is already agitated to misuse of the waters of South China Sea in the name of freedom of navigation.
The tensions heated up after US reprimanded China in a strategic step earlier this summer when 26 nations engaged in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, RIMPAC, a US-led naval exercise and China was dismissed owing to its military developments in South China Sea. (The Korea Times)
While the US have no direct territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea, the East Asian Nations have disputes with China and America maneuvers politics at the ASEAN. This is evident from the fact that Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, claimants of disputed territory in South China Sea along with Chinese rivals South Korea and Japan, were participants of the RIMPAC. That’s why when the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited China in summer 2018, he was warned by President Xi Jinping that China would not compromise “an inch” of its ancestral territory in South China Sea. (South China Morning Post)
The bar of Chinese strategic concerns is raised by the navigations of British and French vessels near its disputed territories under the flag of FONOPs in the South China Sea. China also has natural concerns about US support and alliance for Taiwan, Japan’s military activities in East China Sea and the Quad, and sees the FONOPs excuse as a means to contain it, both in south and east of its waters.
There is a need that both powers see the strategic situation from the other’s lens. Otherwise, the Sino-American military standoffs are not uncommon and world peace cannot afford a possible confrontation between the two.