26 August 2020   Leave a comment

Tensions between the US and China have ratcheted up because the US sent a U-2 surveillance plane into an area China designated as a “no-fly” zone because it was conducting live-fire military exercises in the region. The US insists that its flights were perfectly legal because they were conducted in strict accordance with international law. The surveillance flight might have been legal, but sending an aircraft into a live-fire zone is problematic. In response, the Chinese launched two missiles into an area of the South China Sea. According to The South China Morning Post:

“One of the missiles, a DF-26B, was launched from the northwestern province of Qinghai, while the other, a DF-21D, lifted off from Zhejiang province in the east.

“Both were fired into an area between Hainan province and the Paracel Islands, the source said.

“The landing areas were within a zone that Hainan maritime safety authorities said on Friday would be off limits because of military exercises from Monday to Saturday.

“The DF-26 dual-capable missile is a type of weapon banned by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty treaty signed by the US and Soviet Union towards the end of the Cold War. When the US withdrew from the treaty last year, it cited China’s deployment of such weapons as justification.

“The DF-26 has a range of 4,000km (2,485 miles) and can be used in nuclear or conventional strikes against ground and naval targets.

“The DF-21 has a range of around 1,800km, with state media describing the most advanced in the series, the DF-21D, as the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile.”

The missiles were clearly intended to send a message to the US which has routinely sent its naval vessels into the South China Sea to assert freedom of navigation rights. The aircraft carrier is the most dramatic example of what military analysts call “projective power”–the ability to exert military force independently of naval bases and contiguous territory. But there are many questions about the viability of aircraft carriers as missile technology continues to improve.

But the increased tension is also based upon a new policy articulated by US Secretary of State Pompeo on US policy toward the South China Sea. The new policy rejects China’s claims in the sea, a dramatic shift from its previous position that those claims have to be negotiated between China and the other states with maritime claims.

“The PRC has no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region. Beijing has offered no coherent legal basis for its “Nine-Dashed Line” claim in the South China Sea since formally announcing it in 2009. In a unanimous decision on July 12, 2016, an Arbitral Tribunal constituted under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention – to which the PRC is a state party – rejected the PRC’s maritime claims as having no basis in international law. The Tribunal sided squarely with the Philippines, which brought the arbitration case, on almost all claims.

“As the United States has previously stated, and as specifically provided in the Convention, the Arbitral Tribunal’s decision is final and legally binding on both parties. Today we are aligning the U.S. position on the PRC’s maritime claims in the SCS with the Tribunal’s decision. Specifically:

  • “The PRC cannot lawfully assert a maritime claim – including any Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claims derived from Scarborough Reef and the Spratly Islands – vis-a-vis the Philippines in areas that the Tribunal found to be in the Philippines’ EEZ or on its continental shelf. Beijing’s harassment of Philippine fisheries and offshore energy development within those areas is unlawful, as are any unilateral PRC actions to exploit those resources. In line with the Tribunal’s legally binding decision, the PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to Mischief Reef or Second Thomas Shoal, both of which fall fully under the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction, nor does Beijing have any territorial or maritime claims generated from these features.
  • “As Beijing has failed to put forth a lawful, coherent maritime claim in the South China Sea, the United States rejects any PRC claim to waters beyond a 12-nautical mile territorial sea derived from islands it claims in the Spratly Islands (without prejudice to other states’ sovereignty claims over such islands). As such, the United States rejects any PRC maritime claim in the waters surrounding Vanguard Bank (off Vietnam), Luconia Shoals (off Malaysia), waters in Brunei’s EEZ, and Natuna Besar (off Indonesia). Any PRC action to harass other states’ fishing or hydrocarbon development in these waters – or to carry out such activities unilaterally – is unlawful.
  • “The PRC has no lawful territorial or maritime claim to (or derived from) James Shoal, an entirely submerged feature only 50 nautical miles from Malaysia and some 1,000 nautical miles from China’s coast. James Shoal is often cited in PRC propaganda as the “southernmost territory of China.” International law is clear: An underwater feature like James Shoal cannot be claimed by any state and is incapable of generating maritime zones. James Shoal (roughly 20 meters below the surface) is not and never was PRC territory, nor can Beijing assert any lawful maritime rights from it.

“The world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose “might makes right” in the South China Sea or the wider region.

By branding China’s activities in the South China Sea as “illegal” the US effectively vitiates negotiated settlements, a challenge that China cannot ignore.

The dispute simply adds more tension to an already rattled relationship. The current disputes between the two states includes trade, Taiwan, the status of Hong Kong, the treatment of the Uighurs in Xinjiang Province, and the controversy over the origins of the COVID-19 virus. Given the context, military actions by either side are incredibly dangerous.

Posted August 26, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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