Under the new leadership of Xi Jinping and the Committee of Seven, China is taking aggressive new steps to become a major maritime power. These steps are linked to the revival of nationalism as a major theme in Chinese rhetoric.
Indeed, Premier Xi has adopted ‘revival of the nation’ as his first major slogan. His instrument will be naval supremacy and his target will be East Asian waters. Only the United States Seventh Fleet stands in his way. And with Barack Obama in office, that is a weak reed indeed as a basis for any kind of war-related deterrence.
Several East Asian countries are at risk in this unfolding Chinese ‘lebensraum‘ aggressiveness. Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines are foremost among them.
Effective January 1, 2013, China has authorized its maritime ‘police’ to board and to seize foreign vessels in waters surrounding the Paracel Islands. Ownership over these islands is claimed by Vietnam. Hanoi has already stepped up maritime patrols in this region. Chinese fishing vessels cut the cables of Vietnam’s seismic survey ship last week.
On November 30, China communicated to the government of the Philippines its intention to station Chinese vessels permanently at the Scarborough Shoal. Ownership to this Shoal i claimed both by China and the Philippines. The area was the scene of a military standoff earlier this year.
China continues to challenge Japan’s control over the Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyus by Beijing. Chinese maritime surveillance and fishing vessels loiter outside the 12-mile territorial limit, periodically crossing inside in a show of maritime muscle.
The question confronting the threatened nations is how to respond to the claws of the Chinese dragon. Failure to contest China’s deployments risks conceding territorial claims under international law, such as that is. An overly aggressive response might provoke a shooting war. Only Japan would stand any chance of winning such a war, and that only with U.S. support.
Time to wake up from your campaign trail high, Mr. President and to send out some unambiguous messages to Beijing concerning just where the United States stands on matters affecting the Pacific theater. Time also to commission some new flat-tops to patrol those vulnerable waters.
Hat Tip: ‘China’s Nationalist Wave’, The Wall Street Journal, December 8, 2012