Check out other comments in this series from: Graham Allison, Gordon G. Chang, David Denoon, Michael Fabey, John Glaser, James Holmes, Lin Gang, Kishore Mahbubani, Robert Ross, Ruan Zongze, Robert Sutter, Xie Tao, Xu Feibiao and Wang Jisi.
Michael Fabey, Military reporter and author of Crashback: The Power Clash Between the US and China in the Pacific:
Barring any major course change in U.S. or Chinese foreign policy, the two countries’ military forces, especially their naval forces, are fated to continue to clash in the Western Pacific.
The two countries have two diametrically opposed core beliefs that guide their military maneuvers in the region. The U.S. believes most of the airspace and sea lanes are internationally open regions for the benefit of any nation. China, however, lays claim to all that as Chinese territory and feels the rest of the world should acknowledge that as fact.
The U.S., through various patrols, bases and partnerships, has managed to police the sea and air lanes for more than seven decades. While some Americans may complain about the cost of being the ‘world’s cop,’ the biggest beneficiaries during this time have been the U.S. consumers and businesses. To thrive, the U.S, must maintain the free flow of commerce from, to and through the Indo-Asian-Pacific.
China claims ownership of the Western Pacific territories based on the nations regional dominance from centuries past. Chinese leaders feel they lost control of the area due to ‘unequal’ and ‘unfair’ treaties imposed on them by Western powers and China wants to right those wrongs so that it can once again be the true ‘middle kingdom’ — or, to put it another way, ‘the center of everything.’
The budding bromance between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping aside, there’s every indication the two countries’ military positions in the Western Pacific are hardening.
For example, in the beginning of this year, the Pentagon released its new National Defense Strategy, in which, for the first time, the U.S. officially identified China, along with Russia, Iran and North Korea, as adversaries and threats. Since then, the U.S. Navy has continued with publicized freedom-of-navigation patrols in the region, exercised with allies and deployed new advanced weaponry in the Western Pacific that has increased tensions with Chinese military leaders. U.S. naval leaders embarrassed China by disinviting its forces from the annual Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise off the coast of Hawaii in July.
The reason for the RIMPAC blackballing was Chinese militarization of bases it built on artificially created or augmented island features in the South China Sea, reneging on a promise President Xi had made against doing so just a couple of years ago. Xi has also started sending warships on patrols all throughout the region, building more aircraft carriers and warning U.S. military and political leaders he will cede none of China’s claimed territory – even though that territory also happens to be land, water and air claimed by other Asian nations, including U.S. allies and partners. China wants the South China Sea to be its Caribbean. As the U.S. controls the Americas, China wants to control Asia. And with Xi being named president for life, there’s no reason to believe China will retreat from its position.