Well, this can’t be what the U.S. was hoping for when it started sending Navy ships past China’s newly built islands: More than a hundred Chinese ships recently participated in a live fire drill in the South China Sea that saw missiles and shells fired over the hotly disputed waters. The exercise, widely reported in Chinese state media, showed off Beijing’s impressive firepower and its sophisticated weapons, like electronic countermeasures and ship-based missile defense systems that can stop supersonic attacks.
Drills are ultimately only gestures. But in a region where the countries are locked in bitter feuds over whether their disputed territorial claims are “indisputable”, and where tensions often threaten to boil over, this exercise is a particularly provocative gesture. Between the size of the drill and the use of live ammunition, China is stamping its feet especially loudly here, even by South China Sea standards.
China’s strategic position is arguably weakening due to a market collapse, the increasing military power and cooperation of regional opponents, and the U.S.’s newly forward-leaning policy. Yet Beijing’s insistence on its claims to the territory in the South China Sea has if anything become louder and more forceful. As the stakes get ever higher, and the tone ever tenser, do we still not have a real strategy for handling Chinese expansionism?