This week, a group of Chinese warships sailed into the Pacific south of Okinawa, then turned southwest to enter the disputed waters of the South China Sea. The naval force includes China’s only aircraft carrier. Beijing describes the operation as a routine exercise, but as we hear from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute, it clearly sends messages.
First, to Taiwan, in response to President Tsai Ing-Wen’s phone call earlier this month with President Elect Donald Trump, which Beijing sees as a provocation. The Chinese naval force swept around Taiwan from north to south, as if to emphasize the island’s military isolation.
The second message, was surely directed to the President-Elect, who’s questioned the one-China policy, broken precedent to speak with his Taiwanese counter-part, and criticized China’s construction of what he called a massive fortress in the South China Sea. Just this month, satellite images showed new anti-aircraft guns and close in weapons systems around airfields on three of China’s artificial islands. Those are short range, defensive weapons but long range missile systems could be next, if China decides to impose an Air Defense Identification Zone over the South China Sea. China’s National Institute of South China Sea Studies recently warned that Beijing is ready to do just that if the United States continues its military presence in the region.
Two weeks ago, the commander in charge of US military operations in the Pacific said US vessels will continue to patrol the international waters of the South China Sea. In a speech to the Lowy Institute in Australia, Admiral Harry Harris said “We will not allow a shared domain to be closed down unilaterally…. We will cooperate where we can” Admiral Harris added, “but we will be ready to confront when we must.”