Yesterday, President Obama hosted the ASEAN (Alliance of Southeastern Asian Nations) in Rancho Mirage, California. Obama spoke of the need to prevent militarization in the South China Sea.
“We discussed the need for tangible steps in the South China Sea to lower tensions including a halt to further reclamation, new construction and militarization of disputed areas,” Obama said. “When ASEAN speaks with a clear and unified voice, it can help advance security, opportunity and human dignity.”
But ASEAN does not speak with a clear and unified voice and when President Obama speaks, no one listens. While Obama spoke about halting militarization in the South China Sea, Taiwan revealed that China was doing exactly that. Taiwan released satellite photos indicating China had built eight surface-to-air missile launchers and a radar system in the disputed Paracels Islands.
When asked of this development all Secretary of State John Kerry could say it was “a serious concern.”
I’m sure this has rattled Beijing to its very core.
If Iran can get away with launching missiles at US Navy ships and parading US Navy sailors on state TV and Russia can annex Crimea and step on Ukraine’s neck then surely China can build missile launchers on islands Taiwan and Vietnam also claim without consequence.
The one Republican presidential candidate that has spoken effectively about China is Donald Trump. Of course, most of his commentary is focused on trade rather than militarization. The idea that the U.S. can slap a 45% tariff on Chinese imports is as pie in the sky as Bernie Sanders promising free college. But Trump is putting China on the foreign policy agenda in a way none of the other Republican candidates have. Given China’s aggression in this regard expect Trump to expand his attention to its militarization. That is unless either Rubio or Cruz can beat him too the punch. The Bushes have long had close ties to China going back to George H.W. Bush’s days as Gerald Ford’s envoy. So don’t expect Jeb to be particularly critical in this area.
China’s flexing of its military muscle on the water is reminiscent of Japan’s military adventurism in the Pacific in the 1930’s beginning with the seizure of Manchuria from China. And we all know the consequences of that military adventurism being unchecked.
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