(From The National Interest)
Sometime soon, perhaps before the end of the year, the US Navy could perform another freedom of navigation patrol in the Spratly Islands, this time near Mischief Reef, another low-tide elevation that China has extensively built up with dredged sand.
The last such patrol, conducted on October 27 by USS Lassen near Subi Reef, was a botched mission in the view of many analysts, since it left observers wondering whether the United States had inadvertently reinforced China’s sovereignty claims.
The forthcoming Mischief Reef patrol may offer a much-needed “mulligan” to an Obama administration still striving to achieve credibility for its “Asia rebalance” policy.
How will China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) respond to the next patrol? After USS Lassen’s cruise, the PLA dispatched J-11B fighter-attack aircraft to its airbase on Woody Island in the nearby Paracel island chain, and then conducted training exercises with the Flanker-variant aircraft over the South China Sea.
China has the capacity to project substantial anti-air and anti-ship capacity to the Spratlys. How China will respond to the next patrol remains a mystery and is no doubt contributing to the Obama administration’s apparent skittishness in the South China Sea.
What we do know is that China’s leaders believe that they will one day be able to challenge the US military position in the western Pacific.
We know this because for two decades China has expended enormous, and still rapidly growing, resources on building up a full range of air, naval, missile and military space power in the region, all specifically designed to counter an intervention by US expeditionary forces. We have to assume that successive Chinese administrations would not have made this investment if they did not believe it could yield results. Read More