Dealing with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea

Arthur Herman:
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There are three steps this administration can take, starting this week.

1) China’s installation of SAM sites is clearly the final step toward declaring an Aircraft Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, which allows a country to monitor and control foreign aircraft entering airspace it considers part of its national territory. China has already declared such an airspace in the East China Sea, which neither we nor Japan recognize. We should state publicly that we will not recognize a Chinese ADIZ in the South China Sea either, and that we and other countries will feel free to conduct overflights in the Spratlys and South China Sea as we normally do. If China then wants to play chicken with U.S. air assets, including military aircraft, operating in an illegitimate ADIZ, that will very quickly become their problem, not ours.

2) We should summon an international conference of states bordering on the South China Sea, including the five other claimants to the territory there (Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei) as well as Australia and Japan, to discuss a situation that has reached crisis proportions and that now demands a concerted multilateral response.

3) Most important, it’s time to recognize that the key leverage the U.S. has over China’s strategy in the South China Sea is Taiwan. In some regards, President Trump may have been too quick to concede a “one China policy” with President Xi two weeks ago. That’s a concession best made in a face-to-face summit, not over the phone — if at all at this point. It’s what’s clearly encouraged Beijing to think that Trump may be, like Obama (in Mao’s phrase), a paper tiger.

Trump doesn’t have to reverse his statement, but he should make it clear that the United States is going to take a very broad interpretation of our remaining treaty obligations toward the democratic island nation of Taiwan. The U.S. suspended or revoked too many of these obligations in order to appease Beijing in the 1970s.
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There is much more.

Trump tended to see Taiwan as a bargaining chip in trade with China.  He may have overlooked the strategic significance of Taiwan as a base in dealing with the South China Sea aggression.  China has been planning on using carrier killer missiles to defeat any US attempt to resist its aggression in the area.  Having to deal with a force based in Taiwan would be a much different matter for the Chicoms.

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