Trade tensions between the US and China appear to have abated – at least for now – as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and top Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow prepare to head to Beijing to kickstar long-awaited “trade talks” with senior Chinese officials.
But while fears of a global trade war led by the world’s two largest economies have faded into the background, the military tensions in the South China Sea – which have been ignored by the markets for years – continue to escalate, per CNN.
Case in point: The US military has revealed that two US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers flew a training mission over the South China Sea on Tuesday, eliciting a defiant response in the Global Times, one of the Communist Party’s most widely read mouthpieces, per the South China Morning Post and Reuters.
The widely-read Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Friday that if the US bombers were meant to send a message to Beijing about Taiwan it would not work.
“The US cannot prevent the mainland exerting military pressure on Taiwan,” it said.
The bombers took off from Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam, according to a statement from US Pacific Air Forces. The exercises also involved US F-15 Strike Eagle jets traveling near Okinawa. The mission was part of the US’ “continuous bomber presence” in the region.
The US has been stepping up its military patrols in the South China Sea, which is claimed by China in defiance of competing claims by its neighbors and even a ruling by the International Criminal Court that recognized the Philippines’ claim on some of the island territories presently dominated China. Meanwhile, using sophisticated “land-reclamation” techniques, China has been expanding rocky atolls in the area into full-fledged islands capable of supporting military infrastructure like airfields and naval bases.
US Admiral Philip Davidson, Trump’s nominee to lead the US forces in the Pacific, has consistently sounded the alarm about China’s intentions. Most recently, the release of a 50-page unclassified transcript on advance policy questions from Davidson detailed his view that Beijing’s forces will soon be capable of “strategically overwhelming” US forces in the Pacific, largely thanks to the regime’s activities in the South China Sea.
“China will be able to extend its influence thousands of miles to the south and project power deep into Oceania. The PLA will be able to use these bases to challenge U.S. presence in the region, and any forces deployed to the islands would easily overwhelm the military forces of any other South China Sea-claimants. In short, China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”
In an interview with CNN on Friday, Davidson again articulated his view that, by dominating the South China Sea, China will be able to keep continuous military pressure on Taiwan (the stated goal of the largest-ever live-fire military exercises in the region, which China’s navy initiated earlier this month). Tensions between Taiwan and the Mainland have escalated under Tsai Ing-wen, who made a congratulatory call to President Trump in defiance of the decades-old “One China” policy, angering the Communist Party establishment on the mainland.
As the Global Times insisted, “the US cannot prevent the mainland from exerting pressure on Taiwan.”
“Mainland military aircraft will fly closer and closer to Taiwan and in the end fly above the island,” the paper added. “If the Taiwan authorities openly promote the ‘Taiwan independence’ policy and cut off all official contacts with the mainland, the mainland will deem Taiwan a hostile regime and has endless means to deal with it.”
Taiwan and the South China Sea are two major faultlines between Washington and Beijing.
Finally, all of this is happening as Taiwan is preparing its own round of military drills that are intended to simulate a Chinese invasion (one which will somehow be stopped using private drones). Also, since the beginning of the year, the US Navy has carried out at least four “freedom of navigation” – or “freeop” – operations in the South China Sea, which entails sending a US destroyer to sail up to 12 miles away from one of China’s artificial islands. These mini provocations have greatly angered Beijing for years, even if China has yet to respond forcefully to US presence in the region.
Ironically, amidst all these growing geopolitical and economic tensions, President Trump and President Xi Jinping continue to insist that they share a personal friendship, and that relations between the US and China have never been better, contrary to Trump’s anti-China rhetoric from the campaign.
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