Would US aircraft and Navy Ships Going Close to China’s South Sea Islands Shift China’s Policy or Cause Accelerated Island Buildup ?

The U.S. military is considering using aircraft and Navy ships to directly contest Chinese territorial claims to a chain of rapidly expanding artificial islands, U.S. officials said, in a move that would raise the stakes in a regional showdown over who controls disputed waters in the South China Sea.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his staff to look at options that include flying Navy surveillance aircraft over the islands and sending U.S. naval ships to within 12 nautical miles of reefs that have been built up and claimed by the Chinese in an area known as the Spratly Islands.

If the U.S. challenges China’s claims using ships or naval vessels and Beijing stands its ground, the result could escalate tensions in the region, with increasing pressure on both sides to flex military muscle in the disputed waters.

According to U.S. estimates, China has expanded the artificial islands in the Spratly chain to as much as 2,000 acres of land, up from 500 acres last year. Last month, satellite imagery from defense intelligence provider IHS Jane’s showed China has begun building an airstrip on one of the islands, which appears to be large enough to accommodate fighter jets and surveillance aircraft.

Over the years, U.S. vessels and aircraft have had several encounters with Chinese assets, often arising from disagreements over Beijing’s territorial claims.

* April 2001 A Chinese fighter collides with a U.S. Navy electronic surveillance aircraft near China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea, forcing the EP-3 to make an emergency landing.
* March 2001, May 2003, March 2009 there were incidents involving US survey ships and surveillance ships
* Nov. 2013 The U.S. flies a pair of B-52 bombers over disputed islands in the East China Sea to contest * Beijing’s air identification zone.
* Dec. 2013 A Chinese ship blocks the path of a U.S. Navy cruiser, the Cowpens, in the South China Sea, some distance from China’s aircraft carrier, forcing the Cowpens to change course to avoid a collision.
* Aug. 2014 a Chinese fighter conducted what U.S. officials said was a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy maritime patrol aircraft that was flying in international airspace about 135 miles east of Hainan Island.

Would US aircraft and Navy Ships going close to China’s south sea islands shift China’s island building policy or cause an accelerated island buildup ?

* US and China bumped planes in the region in 2001. China still proceeded to build the islands 13 years later
* US has recently not acted on several mid-east “red-lines”
* US is not showing strong action against Russian provocations or against Russia in the Ukraine

Russia has used Close Military Encounters against the West over the Past year

List of 66 Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West, March 2014 – March 2015

Serious Incidents with Escalation Risk

Serious incidents go beyond the previously established pattern of interaction and involve close
encounters of a more aggressive and unusually provocative nature.

1. Near Collision between Russian military jet and Commercial Airliner
Date: 12/12/14
States Involved: Sweden; Russia
Geographical Region: Baltic

Incident Details: A Russian military aircraft, flying without using its transponders, flies within close
proximity of a commercial carrier south of Malmo. Russia has denied that the incident was a danger.

Category: Serious. Such incidents represent a credible threat to life; Swedish Defence Minister Peter
Hultqvist said “This is serious. This is inappropriate. This is outright dangerous when you turn off the
transponder.”

2. Air/Naval Incident
Date: Early March 2015
States Involved: Russia; US; Turkey
Geographical Region: Black Sea
Incident Details: Russian fighter-bombers are using NATO warships in the Black Sea to practice
attack scenarios.

3. Abduction of an Estonian security service operative
Date: 05/09/14
States Involved: Estonia; Russia
Geographical Region: Estonian-Russian Border
Incident Details: Estonian security service operative captured by Russian agents on Estonian
territory, the raid involved communications jamming and smoke grenades. This incident took place
immediately after President Obama’s visit to the region and his repetition of security assurances to
the Baltic States.

Category: High Risk. Incursion into NATO member state’s territory. Possibility of using similar tactics
to test the resolve on the Alliance with limited operations beyond the threshold of an armed
aggression. Had the Estonian official or his colleagues resisted, fatalities on either side would have
been a catalyst for further escalation.

Category: Serious. Such actions risk provoking a more proactive defensive response from the
captains of these ships should they feel endangered.

RedLines

Russia’s announced in mid-April that it would proceed with the sale of advanced missile systems to Iran crosses a so-called “red line” established by the Obama administration in 2010, according to comments by senior administration officials.

Following years of dissent from the United States, Russia announced on Monday that it would proceed with the sale of the advanced S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, which has been vying to purchase the hardware for years.

The announcement sparked criticism from the Obama administration, which has been pressuring Iran since at least 2010 to withhold the sale.

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