Relations between the United States and China have been deteriorating steadily in 2018. The ongoing trade war, and South China Sea tensions have significantly contributed to this. The Trump administration is not playing by the same rules that the Bush and Obama administrations were when it comes to the People’s Republic of China. Current US policies and actions vis-à-vis Beijing are considerably more confrontational and protective of US national interests.
This has been evident in the South China Sea where US warships and aircraft regularly conduct Freedom of Navigation (FON) exercises in close proximity to waters, and islands that Beijing considers territorial. Last weekend, a near-collision occurred between US and Chinese destroyers near Gaven Reef. The incident was in marked contrast to the way these FON encounters generally play out. The Chinese warship’s actions were remarkably aggressive, leading many observers to conclude that Beijing instigated the encounter as a warning to Washington.
The US is clearly regarding the encounter as a challenge by China. It described the incident as ‘unsafe and unprofessional.’ On Tuesday numerous media sources reported that the US Navy is drawing up plans for a major show-of-force/FON exercise to be conducted in the South China Sea and perhaps even extending to Taiwan Straits. In essence, the exercise would be the US 7th Fleet trailing its coat in close proximity to Chinese territorial waters, at a time when China is looking to consolidate its grip on the South China Sea and bring it permanently into its sphere of influence and control.
*Author’s note: I wanted to add more to this, however, my time is limited at the moment. Over the weekend I will add a second part and discuss the situation in the South China Sea in more detail.*