Since 2015 the US has been sending warships to the South China Sea on so called “freedom-of-navigation operations”. These are voyages in which US vessels intentionally sail the waters claimed by other powers, specifically to dispute their claim.
China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Taiwan (ROC) all lay vast, overlapping claims to the South China Sea, but the presence of US war navy is directed at China and its claim alone.
If that wasn’t provocative enough the US has announced earlier this month it will no longer send warships to Chinese-claimed waters occassionally. It has now drawn up a regular schedule for such incursions:
The Pentagon for the first time has set a schedule of naval patrols in the South China Sea in an attempt to create a more consistent posture to counter China’s maritime claims there, injecting a new complication into increasingly uneasy relations between the two powers.
The U.S. Pacific Command has developed a plan to conduct so-called freedom-of-navigation operations two to three times over the next few months, according to several U.S. officials, reinforcing the U.S. challenge to what it sees as excessive Chinese maritime claims in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing claims sovereignty over all South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.
The plan marks a significant departure from such military operations in the region during the Obama administration, when officials sometimes struggled with when, how and where to conduct those patrols. They were canceled or postponed based on other political factors after what some U.S. officials said were contentious internal debates.
The semi-official Chinese claim to the South China Sea dates back to at least 1947. Yet in this whole time until 2015 nobody, including the US, felt the “freedom of navigation” was in any way threatened in the sea.
It was not until Obama’s strategic “Pivot to Asia” that US suddenly discovered there was a Chinese “threat” to the South China Sea navigation that required US Navy presence 11,000 kilometers from US mainland (but just a stonethrow from America’s forward-positioned 7th Fleet in Japan).
So just two years after having started these needless provocations the US Navy is making them a permanent, scheduled fixture.
The Wall Street Journal report above explains well why this was done. The “problem” for Pacific Command and other China hawks with previous ad hoc provocations was that they were at least sometimes cancelled for sake of better relations. That will not happen with provocations scheduled in advance.
Truly the cheek of the Americans is something else here. Not only do they send warships to “protect” South China Sea from China, but they declare to always now do so, and never skip a mission.
Meanwhile China keeps building up its own navy, air force and missiles. How long can the US keep flaunting its military might against its number one creditor and consumer goods source?
PS.: The Chinese assert the only threat to freedom of navigation in Asian waters are US warships which seemingly can not go more than a few months without colliding with merchant shipping to deadly results for US crews.