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Hands Off ADIZ Islands
Beijing’s Tactical Successes

While the White House and the Pentagon go back and forth over what to do in the South China Sea, Beijing has been literally changing the geography of the region. And it looks like there’s more to come. The WSJ:

Possession, after all, is nine-tenths of the law. And China’s island-building may not have ended. The Pentagon fears that Chinese dredgers might be planning a fresh round of construction on Scarborough Shoal that it effectively seized from the Philippines in 2012, which would give the People’s Liberation Army a jumping-off point just 140 miles from Manila. It’s bracing, too, for China to declare an Air Defense Identification Zone over the entire South China Sea, which China could enforce from its artificial islands. China has pledged to ignore the tribunal’s findings.

China’s land reclamation won’t change the legal case in The Hague; semi-submerged reefs don’t become islands even if you build on them. Nevertheless, slow-moving Chinese dredgers have outmaneuvered the world’s most powerful navy. China’s political leaders calculated, correctly, that America wouldn’t risk war over a bunch of uninhabited rocks and reefs to stop them.

Last fall, the U.S. Navy, which had sought permission to conduct operations intended to challenge China’s claims for years, finally got the go-ahead from the White House. But it may have been too late, and there are limits to what simply sailing a ships past China’s fortifications can do to ultimately deter Beijing.

Furthermore, an international court is set, sometime in the coming weeks, to issue a decision in the case brought by the Philippines last year. It’s difficult to imagine that the favorable outcome for Manila, which many expect, will do much to change China’s behavior either.

The game now just gets more dangerous and the stakes get higher. We have seen abundant signs recently that very high-ranking people at the Defense Department are intent on ensuring that the United States does not blink now and concede Beijing’s fait accompli. That means that the U.S. Navy will have to continue to force the issue by sailing through the international waters claimed by China, and that U.S. bombers and fighters will need to be on alert to fly right through any Air Defense Identification Zone shortly after it is announced.

The question on everyone’s mind—especially our Asian allies’—is whether President Obama will care to follow through.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Is there a question in anybody’s mind?

  • Dale Fayda

    “The question on everyone’s mind—especially our Asian allies’—is whether President Obama will care to follow through.”

    I realize that the TAI staff has to come up with new editorial content on a continuous basis, but these types of nonsensical rhetorical questions are really starting to frost my weenie. Is there ANYONE in the world who entertains even the slightest notion that Obama will bestir himself sufficiently before the end of his term to do ANYTHING of substance about this development? Anyone?

    As I have commented on this very site several months ago, this issues is already pretty much settled, at least for the duration of Obama’s tenure in the White House. He pointedly ignored the Chi-Coms when they began fortifying these islands years ago and now it’s too late. It’s a done deal – Elvis has left the building, the fat lady has sung, this parrot has left this mortal coil, etc.

    The Navy can sail their ship within spitting distance of these newly fortified outpost until their genitals drop off from extreme old age – the Chi-Coms aren’t going anywhere and they aren’t going to stop building either. Why would they?

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      Obama is a gutless coward that would rather have the military fighting the bogus “Global Warming”, sexism in the ranks by putting women in combat roles they are unsuited too, and never ever be “Rude” to anyone.

      • Andrew Allison

        I profoundly hope that you are right, but fear that he has an altogether different agenda. I remember thinking “Manchurian Candidate?” back in 2008.

  • Blackbeard

    But perhaps Obama isn’t just a “gutless coward.” The academic left, which is the basis for all of Obama’s thinking, has believed at least since Vietnam that American belligerence is the cause of most of the world’s problems. Weakening our military, betraying our allies, encouraging, at least through inaction, developments such these in the SCS, or Russian actions in Eastern Europe, or Iranian nuclearization, all serve to more or less permanently limit the freedom of action of any future president. Perhaps this is just what Obama intends.

    Truly, he is the transformational president he promised to be.

  • Nevis07

    It makes me nervous to suggest it, but I think we should risk a kinetic confrontation with China over Scarborough. A militarized position located where it is next to a newly planned US base and so close to critical Philippine positions is simply unacceptable. Not only that, but the way that China took control of the shoal in 2012 was a coy tactic put on display by China. Don’t allow dredgers into the shoal. Board them, arrest the crews and then when the Chinese fire the first shot sink their vessels. High stakes and it puts our people in harm’s way, but if we let Scarborough go, then we might as well give up the farce of protecting our interests, our allies interests and basic international law. This in my opinion is the litmus test.

    • Nevis07

      Here’s what a Chinese website leaked as plans for the shoal…

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