(GPA) Beijing – The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has flown seems to be preparing themselves for the inauguration of Donald Trump as US president next week by stepping up military operations in the South China Sea.
The first incident happened yesterday in the form of a flyover of the Spratly Islands by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in one of their nuclear-capable H-6 strategic bombers. According to an anonymous US military official, this is the second such incident since the start of this year, the other happened on January 1st. The official also said the moves are a part of an ongoing show of “strategic force” by China across the region.
Although the tiny island chain’s ownership is contested by Vietnam, Brunei, and Taiwan; China had previously been under scrutiny by the international community for building new ‘islands’ in the area capable of sustaining military hardware on them for the past year. More recently the Chinese government suggested that they may already have military equipment in place on the Spratlys themselves.
The second incident happened today when China sailed a group of ships, including their sole aircraft carrier, through the Taiwan strait. The ships were returning to China after conducting naval drills in the area and crossed into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). Although China’s ship movements did comply with international law, and they didn’t enter Taiwan’s territorial waters, the Taiwanese military scrambled fighter jets and ships to monitor the movement of the Chinese fleet.
When US Naval Institute News and the Associated Press asked Eric Wertheim, author of Combat Fleets of the World, what this second event possibly meant, they were told “These latest drills provide our first insights into how China will likely be using their aircraft carrier in the near future.” Wertheim speculated that China is going to “use the carrier, at least initially, as a demonstration of regional muscle – sending a message that they are willing to back up talk, policy, or rhetoric with a show of strength.”
China is growing increasingly hostile as a response to several acts of what they deem to be interference by the US in the region. The Spratly flyover is most likely further response to this year’s many ‘freedom of navigation drills’ by the US navy culminating in the capture of a US underwater surveying drone. On top of this was the decision against China’s claims in the South China Sea in The Hague earlier this year. Both China and Russia deem that ruling to be illegitimate and have continued operations as if it hadn’t happened.
The incident today is probably partially in response to President-Elect Trump’s phone call with the Taiwanese President last month. China still considers Taiwan as part of their country and it’s official designation is as a ‘rogue province.’
Trump has pledged to ‘get tough’ on China both militarily and economically and it seems China is making sure it’s known that they aren’t just blustering, despite what some in the US may think. China’s rank as one of the most powerful nations worldwide isn’t a mistake, regardless of what Trump may think. There’s going to have to be some reasonable negotiation instead of simply brute force in finding an equitable solution for both of these superpowers in the coming years.