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Foreign Policy Adrift
Beijing Sends Missiles to the South China Sea

In a move that conveniently coincided with President Obama’s Southeast Asia summit in California, China has moved missiles to the South China Sea, Pentagon officials say. Reuters:

China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, Taiwan and U.S. officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as U.S. President Barack Obama urged restraint in the region.

Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Major General David Lo told Reuters on Wednesday the missile batteries had been set up on Woody Island. The island is part of the Paracels chain, under Chinese control for more than 40 years but also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

At the California summit, there was reportedly a great deal of discussion about ways to deal with China’s island building habit in the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, but the participants’ joint statements never even explicitly mentioned China.

The timing of China’s missile deployment may well be coincidental, but it’s nonetheless clearly a thumb in the eye of the United States all the same. It’s also a reminder of the ripple effects of the White House’s feckless (or just nonexistent) Middle East policy. Having observed the Obama administration’s record of not responding to direct challenges from Russia in the Middle East, China has drawn some conclusions about how cautious it needs to be in the Pacific.

The meltdown of American resolve and strategic coherence in the Middle East has consequences around the world. The White House thinks that its approach reduces the risks of war; the opposite, unfortunately, is true.

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  • f1b0nacc1

    This is an extremely serious problem, and there is no easy solution for it. The Chinese are not just placing a few SAM launchers on an island (that would be bad enough), but they are in fact putting the pieces in place for an integrated air defense network over the entire disputed region. This would (along with the naval assets that they are already deploying) give them de facto control over the South China sea, and give other powers no real option to deal with it. The administration has stood by and done nothing, though I suppose that really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.

    • Dale Fayda

      I believe you and I had an argument a while back about this very topic, where I have advanced pretty much the same points you have in this latest comment. The initial exchange was in response to my comment to US Navy sailing a destroyer with the 12-mile limit of these islands, which I held to be a less than empty gesture on the part of Obama. I also said that the Chinese were in the process of fortifying these islands and the time for pointless hurrumphing was long past. You replied something to the effect that there was nothing Obama could do and even the token response by the US was evidence of their seriousness in dealing with this issue.

      Not to pat myself on the back, but it looks like I was right in this regard. It also appears that I was correct in that Russia is going to start siding up to the Kurds in a meaningful way at the expense of Turkey, which was another conversation we had recently.

      Everybody comes to the “answer man” [grin]…

      • f1b0nacc1

        As I said then, you have entirely missed my point.
        Obama’s chance to do something about this was long past, and the fact that he was even doing what little he did was a recognition of how serious the problem was. In the meantime, the Chinese have moved far more aggressively than either of us forecast, and the situation has become significantly more serious.
        The HQ-9, even though it is a largely inferior weapon system (roughly equivalent to the S-300PMU, a somewhat dated ‘export version’ of the second-line Russian SAM system) is a taste of things to come, none of them good. the next logical step will be to deploy anti-shipping missiles on these islands, along with associated targeting sensors for both anti-air and anti-shipping operations. This wouldn’t be used against the USN (yet), but it would be a wonderful way to threaten some ‘unwelcome’ fishing vessels, or stopping a seabed mining or exploration operation.
        Now, with all of this in front of us, just what do you propose doing aside from pointless harrumphing? At the time I mentioned that short of a military strike, we had little option to reverse the situation, and thus while I dislike Obama and do believe that his dithering had led us here, at least by making the legal case he was keeping our options open. That situation has been altered by the Chinese initiative, and we have few options. We could start aggressively arming the Philipine military (pointless…they are corrupt and ineffective, we would simply be throwing good money after bad), work out some sort of multilateral agreement among the various states in the region (likely toothless, unless we were willing to commit our own forces on a large scale….a very dangerous escalation indeed), or start selling some serious weapons to the Taiwanese and Japanese, which would certainly face intense opposition from the Democrats in Congress. My preferred solution at this point is to publicly state that the US has no opposition to Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Korean acquisition of nuclear weapons (we can use Iran, the Norks, and Chinese behavior as a justification for this), but along with my dreams of a weekend of sin with Heidi Klum, I am afraid that this must remain firmly in the realm of fantasy…
        So, what are your options?

        • Dale Fayda

          Actually, I believe you missed the point I made in my first comment on this topic. If you recall, the title of that article was something like “US is getting serious in the South China Sea” or something to that effect. I commented that simply sailing a ship within several miles of these island doesn’t constitute “serious” in my book., to which you have appeared to take umbrage.

          The cause(s) of the present situation, Obama regime’s reaction to it so far and what the optimum way of dealing with this crisis may be are (3) entirely different topics of discussion.

          My initial contentions were:

          1. The Obama regime was (is) in no way, shape or form “serious” about preventing or thwarting the Chi-Coms from building and fortifying these islands. Fact.

          2. The Obama regime’s reaction to Chi-Coms getting this accomplished over a period of many months were half-hearted at best. Fact.

          3. What will/can the US do about it now – nothing. As I said it my original post, this is a done deal. The time for preventative action is long since past. All we and the rest of the countries in the region can do is take stock of the situation and to beef up their naval capabilities accordingly.



  • Gary Hemminger

    The obama administrations incoherence will prevent war in his timeframe…and will solidify his liberal bonafides. The next administration will have to deal with the repercussions…as will the american people.

    • PoohBear57

      T’was ever thus. The Repubs have had to clean up the Dem’s messes at least since the Lyndon Johnson era. Which has only set the stage for the next Dem administration to come in and make another mess for the Repubs to clean up.

  • Nevis07

    I expect more of this from both Russia and China right up until the next President comes into office. This will put the candidates in a tough position if they want to use aggressive China rhetoric on the campaign trail. As soon as whoever gets elected comes into office, they’re going to have to either actually follow-up on their stance or put America’s China policy in a consistently weakening position for another 4-8 years – and at the rate China is changing the on the ground (seas) status quo, by that time, it may be too late to do anything about it.

    IMHO, the US needs to start militarizing allies islands in response. I don’t want things to escalate, but if our navy gets caught out cold in a conflict, without any A2D2 of it’s own, things could become significantly more difficult for those fleets.

  • Anthony

    “The United States and China are both indispensable pillars of world order. Remarkably, both have historically exhibited an ambivalent attitude toward the international system they now anchor, affirming their commitment to it even as they reserve judgment on aspects of its design. China has no precedent for the role it is asked to play in twenty-first-century order, as one major state among others. Nor does the United States have experience interacting on a sustained basis with a country of comparable size, reach, and economic performance embracing a distinctly different model of domestic order.

    The cultural and political backgrounds of the two sides diverge in important aspects. The American approach to policy is pragmatic; China’s is conceptual. America has never had a powerful threatening neighbor; China has never been without a powerful adversary on its borders. Americans hold that every problem has a solution; Chinese think that each solution is an admission ticket to a new set of problems. Americans seek an outcome responding to immediate circumstances; Chinese concentrate on evolutionary change. Americans outline an agenda of practicable deliverable items; Chinese set out general principles and analyze where they will lead. Chinese thinking is shaped in part by Communism but embraces a traditionally Chinese way of thought to an increasing extent; neither is intuitively familiar to Americans.” In Asia, almost every state is impelled by its own dynamism.

  • Fat_Man

    “the ripple effects of the White House’s feckless (or just nonexistent) Middle East policy”

    What about the ripple effects of his other feckless or nonexistent policies? Ukraine? South China Sea, North Korea, Mexico, just to name a few.

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