Troubled Waters
Chinese Warships Spook Taiwan in South China Sea

Another sign of rising tensions in the South China Sea came today, as China’s only aircraft carrier sailed 90 nautical miles south of Taiwan with a group of warships. Reuters:

A group of Chinese warships led by the country’s sole aircraft carrier entered the top half of the South China Sea on Monday after passing south of Taiwan, the self-ruled island’s Defense Ministry said of what China has termed a routine exercise. […]

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said the carrier, accompanied by five vessels, passed southeast of the Pratas Islands, which are controlled by Taiwan, heading southwest. […]

Senior Taiwan opposition Nationalist lawmaker Johnny Chiang said the Liaoning exercise was China’s signal to the United States that it has broken through the “first island chain”, an area that includes Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Taiwan. […]

Influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said the exercise showed how the carrier was improving its combat capabilities and that it should now sail even further afield.

“The Chinese fleet will cruise to the Eastern Pacific sooner or later. When China’s aircraft carrier fleet appears in offshore areas of the U.S. one day, it will trigger intense thinking about maritime rules,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

The official line from Beijing is that there is nothing to see here, but the alarmed reaction from Taipei and the celebratory one from the Global Times suggests otherwise. China’s latest move may not be as brazen as stealing an American drone within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, but it fits into a larger pattern of aggressive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, especially since Donald Trump’s norm-shattering phone call with Taiwan’s President.

The transition from the passive Obama Administration to the combative Trump Administration has given Beijing the perfect opportunity to throw its weight around in the South China Sea. We may see more such instances in the weeks to come, as Trump provocatively needles China and the Obama Administration seeks to lower the temperature.

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