Is It ‘Too Late’ To Stop China In The South China Sea?
China has an overwhelming presence in the disputed South China Sea, leading some to suggest that it is “too late” to stop China’s expansion in the region.
The Chinese military position in the South China Sea appears nearly unshakable, which prompted former head of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) Sir Angus Houston to remark, “I have seen the imagery and what you see is infrastructure going in, and it is not going to be too much longer before it is fully developed,” he explained. “All of this development will enable China to dominate the South China Sea and extend its permanent military presence further,” he said in a presentation at the National Security College conference in Canberra, Australia over the weekend.
“It is too late to stop the China program in the South China Sea,” Houston added.
China’s vast claims to the South China Sea were discredited by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last summer. Beijing dismissed the ruling and rejected the authority of the arbitration tribunal.
China has secured control of the Paracel Islands, the Spratly Islands, and the Scarborough Shoal — the three corners of the much discussed “strategic triangle” in the South China Sea, deploying military equipment to specific outposts.
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies identified military installations on all seven of China’s artificial islands in the Spratlys in December.
“China appears to have built significant point-defense capabilities, in the form of large anti-aircraft guns and probable close-in weapons systems (CIWS), at each of its outposts in the Spratly Islands,” the AMTI report revealed.
Reports also indicate that hundreds of missiles are awaiting deployment to the South China Sea.
China has transformed its outposts into “unsinkable aircraft carriers.”
The Chinese military presence in the South China Sea dwarfs that of all other regional claimant states, making the only challenge to China’s claims to the region the U.S. military.
If U.S. forces “invade the South China Sea, we have the ability to destroy them,” Jin Canrong, a Chinese international relations expert, argued last month.
Inaction on the part of the Obama administration arguably emboldened China.
It is unclear what stance President Donald Trump will take on this issue, but he and his team have indicated a willingness to stand up to China.
Trump has called out China for building “massive fortresses.”
Comparing China’s assertive activities in the South China Sea to “Russia’s taking of the Crimea,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of “taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s.”
The U.S. should “send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” he explained.
“I think the U.S. is going to make sure that we protect our interests there,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a press briefing two weeks later.
“If those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yes, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” he added.
But, China may be too entrenched to be dislodged.
Houston suggests that the U.S. and other powers “engage with and make space for China” while defending that which can still be defended, such as freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
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