President Xi Jinping clearly plans to steam ahead with an aggressive foreign policy in 2016. After Vietnam protested China’s plane landings on reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea over the weekend, Beijing did it again this morning with two more planes. Reuters:
“The successful test flights proved that the airport has the capacity to ensure the safe operation of large civilian aircraft,” Xinhua said, adding that the airport would facilitate the transport of supplies, personnel and medical aid […]
The runway at the Fiery Cross Reef is 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) long and is one of three China has been building for more than a year by dredging sand up onto reefs and atolls in the Spratly archipelago.
Moreover, last week, several news outlets reported on the heavy involvement of President Xi in reorganizing the military, which includes the formation of three new units. Then there was the announcement that China is building a second aircraft carrier—this time from scratch.
Xi may be a nationalist himself, but he’s also taking a hawkish approach because it appeals to the populace’s patriotism. That makes it a convenient distraction from slowing economic growth, and other domestic disruptions. And while it’s of course possible that Xi would have pursued this strategy regardless, his recent moves also testify to evaporating concerns about the U.S. pivot—he doesn’t appear to think the current White House will challenge him. (And, as Eliot Cohen recalls in his latest column, presidents don’t have much leverage in their final years anyway).
If China’s 2016 foreign policy moves continue to be this aggressive, expect regional tensions to rise.