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South China Sea
Chinese Officials Warn of War with the U.S.

China clearly can bark, but will it bite? The Guardian reports that its leaders openly discussing the possibility of armed conflict with the United States:

China has warned the US that its “dangerous and provocative acts” in the South China Sea could lead to “a minor incident that sparks war”.

China’s naval commander, Admiral Wu Shengli, issued the warning to his American counterpart Admiral John Richardson during video conference talks on Thursday aimed at defusing tension in the region, according to a Chinese naval statement.

“If the United States continues with these kinds of dangerous, provocative acts, there could well be a seriously pressing situation between frontline forces from both sides on the sea and in the air, or even a minor incident that sparks war,” the statement paraphrased Wu as saying.

Harsh words, but probably not a sign of worse things to come—at least not soon. Nevertheless, there is a danger that pressure back home will drive Beijing to become even more aggressive in the South China Sea, particularly now that a UN court in the Hague has agreed to hear the Philippines’ case that China is violating international law. The decision is a blow to China’s public relations, undermining its argument that it has been behaving legally and fairly. Particularly if the court finds against Beijing, Chinese nationalists will feel isolated and hurt.

All of this notwithstanding, is critical that the U.S. and other countries continue freedom of navigation activities and even intensify them in response to pressure. It is impossible to give up on this issue without a fundamental shift in the international system, one that would harm America’s Pacific alliances and create a new system based on Chinese supremacy. Further, precisely because China can afford to take it slow and escalate by increments, the U.S. and its allies should feel some urgency. The costs of confronting China are likely only to go up.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s policy of strategic dithering is likely encouraging some in China to test him.

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  • Nevis07

    I don’t know what assets we have in place other than the 7th fleet, but I hope that the Navy is moving additional assets into place just in case some sort of incident were to occur. A chance of a war, while still unlikely, is actually not just possible, but heightened at the moment.

    This is why I was concerned about the Obama administration being the one’s to confront China. it’s the follow through. Either decide to pursuit a policy or don’t. But don’t just try half measures a bit here and a bit there. You have to have credibility to follow up what your words.

    • Jim__L

      I don’t know. If the Chinese are really just in this to look good on the home front, Obama would certainly be willing to allow them some face-saving measures.

      I don’t trust him not to give away the store in doing so, but war would not be likely.

    • Andrew Allison

      The Obama administration’s approach to threats is to proffer the Vaseline!

  • Jim__L

    The point of keeping a strong US military is not to kick around tinpot dictatorships in the Middle East. The point of keeping a strong US military is to make sure than when a Chinese jingoist politician proposes pursuing a militant strategy, every other Chinese politician tells him, “Sit down and shut up, you’re an idiot. Let’s keep getting rich instead.”

    We don’t even have to *use* the military to keep this up. Whereas, if we weaken our military, we actually *increase* the chance of war.

    • FriendlyGoat

      You’re right. Unfortunately so much of our strategy relies on the nukes we can’t use. I would be with you in the idea of a bigger conventional military. Unfortunately, some of our founders noted that a standing army invites ill-advised entanglements, and that risk is always with us depending on who is in charge. “If you’ve got it, use it” is not the result we want.

    • Andrew Allison

      Well no, the point of the US military appears to be to spend $43 million of US taxpayer’s money on a gas station, or a trillion of so on a bomber that will never be used! Throwing more money at this utterly dysfunctional organization is not the answer.

      • Doug

        What bomber will never be used? So far as I know, we’ve used every single bomber in the US inventory? Why do you think the new one will be any different?

      • Jim__L

        Well, the best way to design a functional organization (or product) is to start with a clear strategy, or “concept of operations” (see my somewhat flippant proposal, above). Then derive (accountable) requirements from that, and fight like hell against any “feature creep” that piles on cost and degrades the core mission.

        The Obama administration has no clear strategy, and defending US security or interests seems rather foreign to them. To Obama, the DoD is just a unmanned* vehicle for scoring political points and pursuing social engineering. Clearing out eight years of personnel damage his cronies have imposed is a daunting challenge, but a critical one. Working on the procurement process is an ongoing effort of vigilance that can be made in parallel.

        *Feel free to take “unmanned” in any sense you like.

        • Andrew Allison

          I agree with both points, but think that”fixing” DoD has to start with severely pruning an ossified high command — we have far too many relics, and cleaning up a clearly out-of-control procurement system.

          • Jim__L

            I’d agree with you, only I wouldn’t trust this administration with the pruning hook.

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