Concerns are being raised over increased military tensions between the United States and China in the South China Sea and other areas, amid what is viewed as the worst case of friction between the two superpowers since 1979, when they normalized diplomatic ties.
It is politically sensitive time ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, where accidental occurrences could trigger a grave situation. Both parties need to exercise self-control.
China has been conducting military exercises in coastal areas this summer. It launched a series of intermediate-range ballistic missiles into the South China Sea during an exercise in late August.
The missiles used in the exercise are said to be able to also target vessels, and are known as “aircraft carrier killers.” It is believed that China developed these missiles to keep U.S. military away from its territories in the event of a contingency.
Beijing has reacted sharply against Washington’s move to strengthen support for Taiwan and intensify military activities in surrounding areas. The ballistic missile launch exercise, carried out for the second summer in a row, was more than likely China’s means to keep the U.S. in check.
Japan and other countries neighboring China have become increasingly concerned over Beijing’s militarization since it built an artificial island in the South China Sea. It should refrain from military activities that raise unnecessary tensions in the area.
The U.S. military is increasing the frequency of its freedom of navigation operations, approaching the artificial island and China’s territorial waters. There was a time when the two parties were left glaring at each other after the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea at the same time as China was conducting a military exercise. Beijing issued a statement to criticize Washington, and claimed that the latter interfered with its military exercises when a reconnaissance aircraft entered a no-fly zone in the East China Sea ahead of the missile launch.
China has worked on expanding its military strength over the past 30 years and has made maritime advancements. The U.S. Department of Defense has expressed a strong sense of caution over China’s beefed up military might, including its nuclear capabilities, in its annual report.
The U.S. military is indispensable in restraining China. But it is dangerous if Washington’s move to increase pressure on Beijing is motivated by a hidden agenda by the administration of President Donald Trump to use anti-China rhetoric as a campaign strategy. He should not use the military for political gain.
In 2001, a Chinese fighter jet and U.S. reconnaissance plane collided midair over the South China Sea, resulting in the American plane having to make an emergency landing on Hainan Island.
Washington and Beijing at the time made efforts to resolve the incident through dialogue, but the two sides have recently lost mutual trust. If a similar incident were to happen now, the tensions could immediately heighten.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said he wishes to visit China by the end of 2020. Beijing should welcome him, and take steps for a dialogue toward averting a crisis.