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The South China Sea is Not Beijing's Next Battlefield

September 19, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: PacificChinaTaiwan

The South China Sea is Not Beijing's Next Battlefield

Think Taiwan instead. 

Much of the hardware needed for fighting China in the defense of Taiwan has been put on the backburner as well. Despite the obvious threat, front-line American war fighting assets in the Western Pacific, from satellites to command posts to aircraft hangars, remain unhardened. U.S. forces are woefully behind the PLA in long-range anti-ship missiles. The littoral combat ship is being deployed to Asia first, not frigates and destroyers capable of high intensity combat. Clearly some planning assumptions have been made which favor the South China Sea over a Taiwan scenario.

The Taiwan Relations Act (Public Law 96-8) mandates that, "It is the policy of the United States to maintain the capacity...to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social and economic system, of the people of Taiwan."  The Pacific Command, by law, must be able to certify an ability to defend Taiwan in the most stressful situations imaginable.  That is why operational concepts like Air-Sea Battle/JAM-GC are so important.  Yet studies show that not enough human software and military hardware are being programmed to keep pace with this increasingly difficult mission.       

China's actions are moving minds toward the South China Sea and away from its true strategic objective.  This may be purposeful. If true, that would be disquieting and unwelcome news. But even if it is not, America's policies and military thinking still risk being compromised by the tyranny of the inbox. Without a better understanding of what really animates China's military buildup, the U.S. security position could weaken, and the prospects for a peaceful and stable East Asia could grow ever more remote. It is time for the U.S. government to rebalance to the Taiwan Strait.       

Ian Easton is a research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank focused on security issues in Asia.

Image: Wikimedia/U.S. Coast Guard