The Obama Administration is set to make some bold moves in Asia, if the Wall Street Journal‘s sources prove to be reliable:
The U.S. military is considering using aircraft and Navy ships to directly contest Chinese territorial claims to a chain of rapidly expanding artificial islands, U.S. officials said, in a move that would raise the stakes in a regional showdown over who controls disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his staff to look at options that include flying Navy surveillance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to well within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands.
Such moves, if approved by the White House, would send a message to Beijing that the U.S. won’t accede to Chinese territorial claims to the man-made islands in what the U.S. considers to be international waters and airspace.
This is probably the first round of escalating warnings from the Obama Administration to the Chinese: stand down, or else we will send in the Navy. The Journal cites multiple sources for the story, indicating that it’s probably not an undisciplined leak, but rather an option being floated purposely so the Chinese will take note. The wiggle room lies in the part about White House approval being necessary; if China backs down, in other words, the White House will make these plans just go away.
China has been testing the waters (literally and figuratively) to see how far it can go and what it can get away with. Apparently, when the strategy of attacking opponents’ ships and placing oil rigs in disputed territory proved to be too costly, China took note and backed off somewhat, at least temporarily. Now, in its push to build a string of artificial islands that can both serve as bases and give validity to its claims to be effectively in control of the territory, it may have run up against another wall.
All eyes are on Beijing. It has most certainly been watching closely to see how the United States has comported itself in Ukraine and the Middle East. Now the question becomes: How much do they want to test this Administration?