US defence secretary Ash Carter has chided China over its provocative behaviour in the South China Sea. He claims that Beijing has used strong-arm tactics to isolate itself in the region and has militarised the dispute. China has been busy with land reclamation projects to create artificial islands in the Spratlys archipelago that could be used for military facilities or bolster its disputed territorial claims.
Austin chides China over provocative behaviour
US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has chided China for its ‘destabilizing actions around Taiwan and coercive’ approach to maritime claims in the Asia Pacific. The remarks come as China has stepped up military activity near Taiwan. Lloyd Austin stressed that US policy hasn’t changed for Taiwan, and he cited the one-China policy that allows for informal relations between Taipei and Beijing.
While expressing interest in Beijing’s ‘active presence’ in the Asia Pacific region, Austin also cited the Chinese government’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea. However, he reiterated that the US would support China’s actions as long as they were in the interest of the United States. The US defence secretary’s comments were a further reminder that Washington is not interested in provoking China, but wants to make sure it’s working for the common good.
Austin’s warning comes a day after he held his first one-on-one meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. Wei reiterated that Beijing will go to war to keep Taiwan from becoming independent. Beijing has increased military activities in and around Taiwan in recent years, including sending 30 fighter aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense detection area. Austin reiterated that the US does not support an independent Taiwan and is committed to the peace and stability of the region.
Meanwhile, Washington has continued to support Taiwan. The US and Taiwan’s defence ministers have agreed to bolster trade relations with each other, but Beijing has reacted angrily to Washington’s plans to build counter-China alliances. It has also denounced a security pact between Australia and the United States last year, in which Australia would deploy nuclear-powered submarines. Similarly, Taiwan has complained about Chinese air force missions into its air defence identification zone, which is broader than its territorial or maritime airspace.
Wei blames the United States for worsening tensions in the region
Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China is hosting the BRICS Summit this week, which brings together the foreign ministers of the five major emerging economies – India, China, Russia, and South Africa. Xi is adamant that China will become a major player in the region, but the United States is criticizing the idea. Both China and Russia have blamed the United States for worsening tensions in the region.
In the past few years, China has worked to improve relations with regional nations, including Romania. The EU has increased its pressure on regional governments to cut ties with Beijing, while pro-China parties in several European countries have shifted to more skeptical leaders and scrapped nascent deals. While China has invested in these countries, its increased regional role has not been accompanied by tangible benefits, resulting in the worsening of tensions.
In Western policy circles, Southeastern, Central, and Eastern Europe have been labeled as “bought” by China. In reality, the vast majority of Chinese investments in Europe are in Western European countries. As a result, Chinese involvement in these countries has made them vulnerable to foreign influence. But even the Greek government is resistant to Chinese presence. That’s why some Chinese media sources emphasize Sino-Greek engagement over long-term Chinese investment in Greece. The recent media coverage of the two sides could not be more different.
Carter echoes concerns about Beijing’s assertive approach in the South China Sea
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue has received mixed reactions. Critics argue that Carter is simply talking. But Carter articulated a fact-based approach to China’s actions and engagement with other states in the region. And, the speech makes some sense, at least in the short term. In the long run, Carter’s speech could be a game-changer for how the United States and other nations in the region will approach Beijing.
In the South China Sea, Mischief Reef is a particularly problematic issue. A Philippine Arbitration Tribunal has determined that Beijing built an artificial island within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which has been subject to overlapping claims by both countries. The Philippines could have publicly demanded that China remove this island, but it has chosen not to. This is a remarkable element in the South China Sea story, and it hangs over Beijing like a Sword of Damocles.
Although China’s military does not directly take part in the enforcement of maritime territorial claims, the Chinese government tries to maintain a clean line between military and civilian entities. The “white hull” vessels of the CMS and FLEC take the lead role in managing maritime claims, and PLAN warships provide stand-off support when necessary during potentially escalating actions. Beijing’s goal is to avoid militarizing disputes but if the situation escalates, Beijing will likely respond with classic “tit-for-tit” tactics.
While the Chinese public has yet to notice the retreat from Beijing’s earlier claims, the international audience has not. The dominant international narrative, on the other hand, focuses on China’s continuing flouting of international law and assertive approach in the South China Sea. The US government, however, should pay attention to this broader picture. If China continues down this path, it risks threatening peace and stability in the region.
While Washington can’t resolve every conflict in the South China Sea by itself, it can encourage confidence-building measures and a binding code of conduct in the region. Although China is unlikely to forcibly seize the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands without a major perceived provocation from Tokyo, it should at least encourage an open dialogue between all parties. It should be noted that Carter is concerned about Beijing’s assertive approach in the South China Sea.
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U.S. legislation allows for intervening if war breaks out
The use of force by the United States is authorized by Congress, and a declaration of war immediately puts the United States in a state of warfare. War is a legal entity, and this legislation allows the President to intervene to protect our national security. War powers are not limited to use of armed force; they also include the authorization to target enemy command and control structures. While targeting enemy command and control structures is technically illegal under international law, it is probably not barred by the enactment of E.O. 12333. In addition, it is not a violation of 18 U.S.C. Section 1116. However, a declaration of war creates a legal state of war, regardless of whether hostilities are ongoing. The use of force authorization is less clear, but is generally the same thing.
During wartime, the President can exercise extensive powers to protect the American people. For instance, he may prohibit foreign countries from engaging in economic transactions with the United States. He can also prohibit certain contracts and enact orders for certain articles to be made on a ship. If war breaks out, the President can also operate a factory that supplies goods for a specific country, regardless of whether that company has a contract with the government or not.
Congress has enacted a number of statutes that empower the President to use force. Most of these statutes confer standby authority on the executive branch. Once this authority is activated, the President has the power to use military force against a hostile nation. If war does break out, the President is also authorized to augment his military force. It is not a difficult task to justify the use of force, but the U.S. legislation is not infallible.
Article VI of the Constitution requires the President to declare war. In addition to that, the president may issue an executive order to call up inactive and retired members of the reserve. However, in order to use this authority, the President must inform Congress and publish his executive order in the Federal Register. The executive order must be transmitted to Congress to be valid. However, this does not mean that the President can use force.