China’s expansion, risky trajectory

By Chen Pokong 陳破空  / 

Mon, Dec 23, 2013 - Page 8

A collision between a Chinese warship and a US warship nearly occurred in the South China Sea on Dec. 5 as a Chinese tank-landing ship crossed in front of US guided missile cruiser the USS Cowpens, demanding that the Chinese ship stop moving forward.

The two warships were only 183m from each other. If the US warship had not changed its course in an emergency maneuver, the two would have crashed.

The US responded, stating that the US warship was in international waters and following international standards.

The Chinese warship’s approach and interception were clearly provocative.

The Chinese warship argued that the incident was caused by the US monitoring of the Liaoning, China’s aircraft carrier, in the South China Sea. However, Chinese warships routinely monitor US aircraft carriers passing through the Asia-Pacific region.

When the USS George Washington carrier strike group passed through the South China Sea last month, Chinese warships followed it closely.

Not only did the US not intercept them, but Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, commander of the Battle Force 7th Fleet, said that the US had no objection to Chinese vessels cruising nearby.

Some US officers even invited Chinese officers to board the US carrier, treating them as guests with great hospitality. This civilized behavior of a civilized country stands in stark contrast to the uncivilized move by an uncivilized country.

In March 2009, while the Impeccable, a US surveillance ship, was in the South China Sea monitoring submarine activities, it was approached and harassed by five Chinese vessels. The Impeccable was forced to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

In April 2001, a Chinese J-8 interceptor fighter jet and a US EP-3 intelligence aircraft collided, resulting in the death of a Chinese pilot. The collision forced the EP-3 to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island and caused a diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, was rebuilt from the Varyag, an unfinished carrier purchased from Ukraine. With two guided-missile destroyers and two guided-missile frigates, the Liaoning carrier strike group sailed to the South China Sea last month on its first training voyage.

The voyage, following tension stemming from Beijing’s declaration of its East China Sea air defense identification zone, which was opposed by the US and neighboring countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, attracted the attention of Washington and the international community.

Perhaps China believes its role as a major world power is a reason to expand its military and maritime activities. If the US can, why can’t China? The problem is, if China expands its strategic space at the expense of neighboring countries, it will be seen as an act of aggression, intimidation or predation.

People often say that the US and Chinese navies are fighting for a dominant role in Asia. However, their motives for doing so are fundamentally different. The Chinese navy hopes to expand its influence at the expense of neighboring countries and poses a threat to world peace. The US Navy wants to safeguard world peace, as it aims to protect Asian countries and maintain freedom in international waters.

If the US military force were not present in the Asia-Pacific region, there would be a continuous risk of conflict.

The Chinese Communist Party is obsessed with hard power. It seems to believe that as long as it is economically strong and boorish and has warships with advanced weapons, it can also demand wider land, sea and air territories.

The logic of authoritarian rule has always been based on bullying.

China has adopted a tough and arrogant attitude, and its expansion could increase the risk of regional conflict.

Apart from China-Japan friction over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台), the near-miss collision between the US and Chinese warships could have set off conflict if the US had not taken quick evasive action.

Since China has repeatedly provoked the US and caused problems, a conflict in the form of a limited sea battle could be beneficial for the US and the civilized world.

In the case of the South China Sea incident, if the US warship had continued its trajectory, the smaller Chinese warship would likely have been sunk.

If the Liaoning carrier strike group had attacked the US warship, the US could have deployed the USS George Washington.

Since the Liaoning does not have full warfare capacity or high numbers, the outcome is predictable. The incident would sweep away China’s prestige and Asia would be all cheers.

As a civilized country, the US has shown tolerance to ease conflict and it does not start a war lightly.

However, this is exactly why China is acting so wild these days.

Democracy and dictatorship cannot coexist and civilized and non-civilized countries will inevitably confront one another. What is the US waiting for? Is it waiting for China to be fully armed? By that time, the Chinese military could outweigh the civilized world and the US would be unable to stop it.

Chen Pokong is a Chinese democracy activist in the US.Translated by Eddy Chang