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By Aaron Kesel
Tensions are continuing to rise between world superpowers. China has ordered its military to “enhance combat readiness” following a test of a MOAB (mother of all bombs); Russia and Iran are planning drills in the Atlantic; and the U.S. just sailed a Navy destroyer through the contested South China waters.
Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping Friday ordered the Chinese armed forces People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to enhance their combat readiness to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests after the U.S. had issued a travel warning to China stating Americans were at risk to arbitrary and indefinite detention.
“The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development,” Xi said, to the Central Military Commission (CMC) warning that various risks and challenges were on the rise. “The entire armed forces should have a correct understanding of China’s security and development trends, enhance their awareness of danger, crisis and war, and make solid efforts on combat preparations in order to accomplish the tasks assigned by the Party and the people,” Xi added according to a press release.
This followed the test of China’s dubbed Mother Of All Bombs, (MOAB) only a day prior, according to the official Xinhua news agency which described the bomb as the “Chinese version of the ‘Mother of all Bombs,'” Dawn reported.
The bomb’s strength was compared second to that of a nuclear weapon, according to the agency.
The bomb was dropped by a Chinese H-6K bomber, while the location, the date of the drop, and the range of the bomb blast weren’t publicized.
Presumably, the U.S. responded by sending a U.S. Navy destroyer the USS McCampbell into the contested Chinese waters, near the disputed islands in the South China Sea during ongoing trade talks in what China called a “provocation,” Reuters reported. Although a spokesperson for the fleet denied it was a political statement.
The destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain, “to challenge excessive maritime claims”, Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
BREAKING: U.S. says its navy ship sailed in South China sea on Monday to challenge 'excessive maritime claims' pic.twitter.com/HJcj9YGnfX
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 7, 2019
This comes after a senior Chinese military official Dai Xu (戴旭), threatened U.S. Navy vessels in the South China Sea, recommending that China should attack the ships, Activist Post reported.
Xu recommended aggressive action against the U.S. if it “breaks into Chinese waters again” stating the following: “If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it… In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance,” Taiwan News reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated that the U.S. operation had violated China’s and international law, and China had lodged “stern repercussions.”
“We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” Kang said, adding that China had sent its own military ships and aircraft to identify and warn the ship.
China’s Defense Ministry further added that the ship had “gravely infringed upon China’s sovereignty.”
“We will be on high alert and will closely monitor the air and sea situation to strongly defend our sovereignty and security,” China’s defense ministry said in a message carried by Chinese state media.
Over the past few weeks, several events have elevated the U.S. geopolitical tension with China, which since the Obama administration has been in turmoil after failed diplomatic discussions. It all started in 2012 when China and the Philippines engaged in a lengthy maritime feud which resulted in rejections of the verdict by China in 2016, increasing the chances of potential conflict in the region.
In 2016, an arbitration court ruled that China had(s) no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and that it in doing so breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its actions.
China reacted by boycotting the proceedings, rejecting them and stating that the ruling was “ill-founded.”
One year later in 2017, China announced the creation of two Chinese-controlled international maritime courts that would be used to provide China’s interpretation of maritime law, Epoch Times reported.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte responded by stating that the man-made islands aren’t pointed at them.
“It’s not intended for us. The contending ideological powers of the world or the geopolitics has greatly changed. It’s really intended against those who the Chinese think would destroy them and that is America,” Duterte noted. “We did nothing.”
The Philippines also announced earlier last year possible discussions for joint South China Sea projects, which may have been an attempt at the time to ease the tension, Japan Times reported.
China insists that it has “historic rights” over the region which the countries dispute.
For centuries various countries have fought over the territory in the South China Sea – two specific island chains known as Paracels and the Spratlys – and fought over areas alongside the sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China). These waters are a main import and export point that allows the passing of five trillions of dollars worth of global trade flow annually through the waters, according to Forbes.
“It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have laid competing claims to the area.
Beijing states its right to the area goes back centuries to when the Paracel and Spratly island chains were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation. In 1947 the Communist nation issued a map detailing its claims.
However, in the past few years, China has begun building man-made islands that many countries and U.S. officials have disputed as being military bases.
Former Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing attacked China for “declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” comparing China’s deployment of its military to other islands, to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“The island building in the South China Sea itself in many respects in my view building islands then putting military assets on those islands is a kin to Russia’s taking of Crimea,” Tillerson stated.
China responded to Tillerson’s statement at the time telling the U.S. “speak and act cautiously” after the White House said it would act to foil Chinese attempts to “take over” the South China Sea.
Another key factor rising tensions is the U.S. recognizing Taiwan and encouraging to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwan counterparts under the Taiwan Travel Act, which detested China, Yahoo News reported.
Xi issued further public statements issuing threats to Taiwan to surrender to Chinese rule or expect military action. In that speech, Xi stated, “we make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures,” according to the New York Times.
“Reunification is a historical trend and it is the right path. Taiwan independence is an adverse current of history and is a dead end,” Xi said, adding a subtle note to the United States that “foreign interference is intolerable.”
This may be the red line drawn in the sand on U.S. and Chinese relations. The act, though not legally binding, is said to “severely violate” the One-China principle, as well as the three joint communiqués the US signed with the People’s Republic of China.
In comparison, Mike Pompeo the new Secretary of state has drawn a policy essentially that China is an enemy stating they are the “greatest challenge” in regards to a threat to the United States.
“Over the five, ten, twenty-five year time horizon, just by simple demographics and wealth, as well as by the internal system in that country, China presents the greatest challenge that the United States will face in the medium to long-term,” Pompeo said, adding, “there is no doubt it’s an even bigger challenge than Russia,” in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewit.
That was until the Trump, administration arrested Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei chief financial officer who was arrested in Canada last week and is now facing extradition to the United States. On top of that, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened China on Twitter, calling himself “a Tariff Man,” which ultimately dramatically escalated the stakes of the trade war.