A coming US-China showdown in the South China Sea?

China-US relations are rapidly deteriorating across many fronts. Prominent and worrying are their increasingly acrimonious military-to-military relations, particularly in the South China Sea. Now the US Navy is proposing a major show of force over several days in the Taiwan Strait and against China’s claims and actions in the South China Sea. Given the context, this could result in military confrontation, and even conflict.

This proposal is in keeping with the recent more aggressive US policy and actions against China in the South China Sea. The first indication that a new policy was coming surfaced on May 3 when the White House announced that there would be “near-term and long-term consequences” for China’s “militarization” there.

The Pentagon then rescinded its invitation to China to participate in the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise because “China’s behavior [in the South China Sea] is inconsistent with the principles and purposes of the RIMPAC exercise.”

Then in June at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, US Defense Secretary James Mattis warned China that the rescinding of the invitation was a “relatively small consequence and that there are much larger consequences in the future.”

On October 4, US Vice-President Michael Pence gave a Cold War–like “it’s us or them” speech criticizing China across the board and highlighting the recent “unsafe” challenge by a Chinese destroyer to the USS Decatur as it was undertaking a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) against China’s claims in the South China Sea. Some analysts think that the physical challenge was a reflection of a Chinese policy decision to increase the risk and potential cost of such encounters.

 Read more at Asia Times

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