A new report released by the Pentagon on Thursday throws into stark relief China’s stubborn refusal to back down from its aggressive territorial policies in the face of U.S. and regional protests. The Wall Street Journal has more:
Some U.S. military leaders have pushed the Pentagon to be more aggressive in countering China’s moves in the South China Sea, arguing for more assertive maritime and air patrols to fly within the 12 nautical mile territorial limit of some of the disputed islands that China claims. But some officials inside the Pentagon and at the White House say they have resisted flying such patrols for fear of provoking China. […]
China is ramping up patrols of the area, taking “small, incremental steps” in the disputed areas that avoid military conflict, but work to “increase its effective control” over the islands, the report said. The report also cites expanded use of the Chinese Coast Guard, which Beijing is using to enforce its claims in both the East and South China Seas. […]
Washington fears that the islands will be used for military purposes and could create instability in one of the world’s biggest commercial shipping routes as China lays claim to what several other countries see as international waters. And, as China’s assertiveness grows, the risk of conflict with the U.S. and its allies grows along with it, defense officials have said.
Washington harbors doubts about China’s June 30 announcement that it had completed its land reclamation projects in the Spratly Islands, according to the WSJ. The article also makes clear that the Pentagon thinks China is still on track to militarize the artificial atolls (not excluding the suspiciously airfield-shaped one, notably). What’s more, the report highlights how Beijing has persisted in its strategy of expanding its territory incrementally. According to the Pentagon, as of May China had reclaimed 2,000 acres, and by June it was up another 900.
It looks like Beijing isn’t too worried that any U.S. pivot is going to get in the way of its regional ambitions. As we’ve said before, however, China may be gravely mistaken if it assumes that the U.S. won’t ever take more drastic measures to oppose its aggression. In the meantime, President Xi’s visit with President Obama in Washington next month may be rather tense.