As the United States continues to warn of potential war with North Korea, its allies in the region are warning of what they see as an even bigger, more long-term threat: China’s push into the Western Pacific.
The warnings come as China has recently increased armed incursions into waters traditionally belonging to, or managed by, Japan and Taiwan.
Leaders in both countries have been calling on China to back down from its aggressive actions, all while bolstering their own defenses.
Earlier this month, Japan observed for the first time a Chinese submarine entering the contiguous zone (12 nautical miles to 24 nautical miles from shore) around disputed islets in the East China Sea.
That incursion occurred shortly after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen warned that China’s increased military patrols around the island threatened to destabilize the region.
Chinese fighters and bombers have also been stepping up patrols in the region.
Allies in the region are also concerned about President Donald Trump’s “America first” foreign policy, and as such have openly questioned whether Washington remains committed to the defense of the region. That said, the most recent National Defense Strategy lists China as a peer competitor and rising threat to U.S. national security.
China has a long-term goal of reuniting with Taiwan, and territorial disputes with countries ranging from Japan to Vietnam to India. [source]
(Analyst comment: China’s strategy here long-term is to continue to increase the frequency and muscularity of its patrols until they become the “new normal,” which is already happening. In fact, Chinese air force spokesman Shen Jinke said that very thing last month.
As Beijing pushes harder and farther, the U.S. and allies in the region will have to draw a line at some point or risk losing control over the situation through inaction. Drawing that line will mean having to resort to some kind of force short of blowing a warship out of the water. But any action like that carries risk of provocation and response. So really, it boils down to this: How much are the U.S. and her allies in the region willing to accept? Are they willing to accede control and decision-making authority in the region to Beijing?
Another possibility: The U.S. and her allies should back against China’s incremental aggressive moves with incrementally aggressive moves of their own, taken collectively. Surely President Xi understands that any overt use of force by him will invite an equal response.)