Sat, Feb 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Pacific nations raise their defenses as US falters on China

By Ting Shi and Isabel Reynolds  /  Bloomberg

With US President Donald Trump’s administration warning of a possible war with North Korea, US allies in Asia are sounding the alarm on another risk: a clash with China in the western Pacific Ocean.

China has recently accelerated air and naval excursions in sensitive areas near Taiwan and Japan, part of a longstanding quest to expand its military presence further from its shores into the Pacific Ocean. Leaders in Taipei and Tokyo have called on Beijing to back off while strengthening their defenses.

Last month, Japan for the first time observed a Chinese submarine entering the contiguous zone — 12 nautical miles to 24 nautical miles (22.2km to 44.4km) from shore — around disputed islets in the East China Sea.

That came shortly after President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) warned that China’s increased military patrols around the island threatened to destabilize the region.

Trump’s “America first” foreign policy has raised concern in Asia about the reliability of the US in helping to stave off Chinese pressure as it gains greater military and economic strength. China has a long-term goal of bringing Taiwan under its control — and territorial disputes with nations ranging from Japan to Vietnam to India.

“The unpredictability of the Trump administration encourages Tokyo and Taipei to do more for their own defense,” said Ja Ian Chong (莊嘉穎), an associate professor at the National University of Singapore who specializes in Asia-Pacific relations. “Unless resolved in such a way that all sides feel simultaneously assured, the actions can increase tensions in East Asia and raise the potential for some sort of incident.”

While Trump’s interactions with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) mostly focused on North Korea and trade during his first year in office, China’s territorial claims could become more prominent.

In a strategy document released last week, the US Department of Defense cited China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to US power.

China has pushed back against that narrative, with the Chinese Ministry of National Defense last weekend calling on the US to abandon a “Cold War” mindset.

It blamed “other countries” for citing freedom of navigation concerns to undertake military activities in the South China Sea, where China has undertaken massive land reclamation to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area.

On Saturday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the country would take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty in the South China Sea after a US warship entered waters near the disputed Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in China and Taiwan, which also lays claim to it.

The Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily on Monday accused the US of destroying stability in the South China Sea, and threatened to “enhance and speed up” its military capacity in the waters in response.

China has also dismissed allegations that it is encroaching on Taiwan and Japan.

Patrols around Taiwan by Chinese fighter jets, bombers and surveillance aircraft are the “new normal,” People’s Liberation Army Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke (申進科) said last month.

The Chinese submarine spotted near disputed islands in the East China Sea was monitoring the movements of two Japanese vessels, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

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