The 2016 Non-campaign Issue: Conflict with China

Amid the hot button issues this election season -- The Donald’s coiffure, Hillary’s sexual orientation, Bill’s sexual whatever, and the nebbish Bern’s sudden discovery of manhood -- are lesser though undoubtedly important issues that require attention. One is the potential for conflict with China over its invasion of the East and South China Seas.  

What are Trump and Clinton saying about the looming danger -- if anything?

China’s seizure of 200 miles of international waters, along with the reefs, shoals, and atolls it’s militarizing, promises war. Any conflict could be theatre-specific or wider, human nature and war being hard to predict. It’s conceivable that war with China could somehow touch the U.S. homeland. Technology has overcome oceans.

Even Barack Obama -- no slouch in the lead-from-behind department -- has worked in low-key fashion during his presidency to position the U.S. and its allies to counter China’s threat.

In fact, Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam wasn’t just about having dinner with Anthony Bourdain.  

From the Washington Post:

HANOI -- The Obama administration announced Monday that the United States would fully lift a longstanding U.S. embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, a decision that reflects growing concerns about China’s military clout and illustrates the warming bilateral ties between the former enemy nations.

Forget the “warming ties” happy horse excrement, the Americans and Vietnamese are being driven together by cold calculation; they mutually perceive threats to their interests and security from China. 

The Americans and Vietnamese -- along with the Japanese, Filipinos, Australians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, and Indonesians, notably – are militarizing, cooperating, and coordinating in stepped up fashion. The U.S. Navy is conducting “freedom or navigation” operations in the South China Sea.

This explanation from USA Today:

Cmdr. Bill Urban, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said the USS Lawrence operation

[which was “within 12 nautical miles of a landfill-island recently constructed on Fiery Cross Reef”] was intended to "uphold the rights and freedoms of all states under international law and to challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea."

China's foreign ministry on Tuesday expressed "resolute opposition" to the operation.

"The action by the U.S. threatens China's sovereignty and security, endangers the safety of people and facilities on the reef, and harms regional peace and stability," spokesman Lu Kang said.

What’s motivated the Chinese seizure of international waters and their militarization of the regions? The considerations are financial and geopolitical.  

Under those vast waters are rich deposits of oil, gas, and minerals. Over those waters transits an estimated $5 trillion in commerce annually. Chinese control of the East and South China Seas permits them to dominate the nations (aforementioned) that have economic and other interests in freely navigating those waters.

The Chinese want to be the undisputed masters of Asia, similar to the early and mid 20th Century Japanese with their “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Japanese language was Orwellian, of course. Prosperity was intended to accrue to the Japanese. The Chinese now have a like idea, ominously so. 

As to the presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton, in particular, there’s not much there on the Chinese danger. Trump has emphasized China’s “economic” threat to the U.S., but as the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Mazza pointed out in a critical piece on Trump:

Last year, the Malaysian Defense Minister warned that the South China Sea “could escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time or our history.” And on this, Trump mustered a whopping 18 words.   

Trump, in various campaign appearances, has mentioned Chinese militarization of the South China Sea, but in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Chinese island building happening without their need to worry about “environmental impact” as the U.S. would. Here are samples of Trump’s stump remarks, here and here.

Trump did say this in an April 4, 2016, interview with the New York Times (via PolitiFact):

China is "in the South China Sea and (building) a military fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen."                             

PolitiFact went on to criticize Trump for exaggeration. His terming the Chinese military buildup as a “fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen” was judged hyperbole. But Trump is closer to the truth than is PolitiFact. The Chinese are only in the opening stages of militarizing those seas. They intend to project whatever power necessary into the regions to dominate them. If unchecked, they will create a “virtual” fortress over a great expanse.  

At Trump’s campaign website, he does devote a brief section under reforming the Sino-American relationship to the East and South China Seas dispute. Per the website:

Strengthen the U.S. military and deploying it appropriately in the East and South China Seas. These actions will discourage Chinese adventurism that imperils American interests in Asia and shows our strength as we begin renegotiating our trading relationship with China. A strong military presence will be a clear signal to China and other nations in Asia and around the world that America is back in the global leadership business.

A web search for recent remarks by Hillary Clinton about Chinese power projection and control of the East and South China Seas yielded nothing. A search of the issues section of Clinton’s campaign website yielded -- nothing. Her issues section does address “Protecting animals and wildlife” and “LGBT equality.”   

An April 2015 article at The Diplomat delves into what a Clinton presidency might mean in terms of Asia. The article draws on an essay that ran at Foreign Policy under Clinton’s name when she was Secretary of State, as well as remarks she gave in the 2010-11 timeframe.

The Obama presidency has been dedicated to a “pivot to Asia,” which amounts to an historic reordering of American national interests and priorities. Engagement in Asia is recognized as vital to American interests now and long term.

The Diplomat quotes Clinton’s remarks following a meeting of ASEAN ministers in 2010:

The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.   

The statement from Secretary of State Clinton is couched, process-driven, and legalistic in tone. That’s what you’d expect from the nation’s top diplomat. But with each passing day, the Chinese are demonstrating that the niceties of process and international legal understandings aren’t availing against a nation bent on hegemony, greater wealth through seizure, and a role equal to or surpassing the United States in global affairs.

China’s ambitions won’t be blunted by rulings in international courts or tribunals. American military might, it’s willingness to project and use it, ongoing dialogue, and drawing unambiguous lines are the best bet of deterring China’s aims in the East and South China Seas. Then it takes a president who shows resolve in the teeth of China’s challenges.

Trump’s pledge to reform the Chinese-American relationship, rebuild the military, and advance vital U.S. interests seems to be better position him to engage and deter the Chinese. It would be good to hear more from Trump regularly about the need to counter China in a strategically critical area of the world.

Amid the hot button issues this election season -- The Donald’s coiffure, Hillary’s sexual orientation, Bill’s sexual whatever, and the nebbish Bern’s sudden discovery of manhood -- are lesser though undoubtedly important issues that require attention. One is the potential for conflict with China over its invasion of the East and South China Seas.  

What are Trump and Clinton saying about the looming danger -- if anything?

China’s seizure of 200 miles of international waters, along with the reefs, shoals, and atolls it’s militarizing, promises war. Any conflict could be theatre-specific or wider, human nature and war being hard to predict. It’s conceivable that war with China could somehow touch the U.S. homeland. Technology has overcome oceans.

Even Barack Obama -- no slouch in the lead-from-behind department -- has worked in low-key fashion during his presidency to position the U.S. and its allies to counter China’s threat.

In fact, Obama’s recent visit to Vietnam wasn’t just about having dinner with Anthony Bourdain.  

From the Washington Post:

HANOI -- The Obama administration announced Monday that the United States would fully lift a longstanding U.S. embargo on lethal arms sales to Vietnam, a decision that reflects growing concerns about China’s military clout and illustrates the warming bilateral ties between the former enemy nations.

Forget the “warming ties” happy horse excrement, the Americans and Vietnamese are being driven together by cold calculation; they mutually perceive threats to their interests and security from China. 

The Americans and Vietnamese -- along with the Japanese, Filipinos, Australians, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, and Indonesians, notably – are militarizing, cooperating, and coordinating in stepped up fashion. The U.S. Navy is conducting “freedom or navigation” operations in the South China Sea.

This explanation from USA Today:

Cmdr. Bill Urban, a U.S. Defense Department spokesman, said the USS Lawrence operation

[which was “within 12 nautical miles of a landfill-island recently constructed on Fiery Cross Reef”] was intended to "uphold the rights and freedoms of all states under international law and to challenge excessive maritime claims of some claimants in the South China Sea."

China's foreign ministry on Tuesday expressed "resolute opposition" to the operation.

"The action by the U.S. threatens China's sovereignty and security, endangers the safety of people and facilities on the reef, and harms regional peace and stability," spokesman Lu Kang said.

What’s motivated the Chinese seizure of international waters and their militarization of the regions? The considerations are financial and geopolitical.  

Under those vast waters are rich deposits of oil, gas, and minerals. Over those waters transits an estimated $5 trillion in commerce annually. Chinese control of the East and South China Seas permits them to dominate the nations (aforementioned) that have economic and other interests in freely navigating those waters.

The Chinese want to be the undisputed masters of Asia, similar to the early and mid 20th Century Japanese with their “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Japanese language was Orwellian, of course. Prosperity was intended to accrue to the Japanese. The Chinese now have a like idea, ominously so. 

As to the presidential candidates, Trump and Clinton, in particular, there’s not much there on the Chinese danger. Trump has emphasized China’s “economic” threat to the U.S., but as the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Mazza pointed out in a critical piece on Trump:

Last year, the Malaysian Defense Minister warned that the South China Sea “could escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time or our history.” And on this, Trump mustered a whopping 18 words.   

Trump, in various campaign appearances, has mentioned Chinese militarization of the South China Sea, but in a tongue-in-cheek reference to Chinese island building happening without their need to worry about “environmental impact” as the U.S. would. Here are samples of Trump’s stump remarks, here and here.

Trump did say this in an April 4, 2016, interview with the New York Times (via PolitiFact):

China is "in the South China Sea and (building) a military fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen."                             

PolitiFact went on to criticize Trump for exaggeration. His terming the Chinese military buildup as a “fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has not seen” was judged hyperbole. But Trump is closer to the truth than is PolitiFact. The Chinese are only in the opening stages of militarizing those seas. They intend to project whatever power necessary into the regions to dominate them. If unchecked, they will create a “virtual” fortress over a great expanse.  

At Trump’s campaign website, he does devote a brief section under reforming the Sino-American relationship to the East and South China Seas dispute. Per the website:

Strengthen the U.S. military and deploying it appropriately in the East and South China Seas. These actions will discourage Chinese adventurism that imperils American interests in Asia and shows our strength as we begin renegotiating our trading relationship with China. A strong military presence will be a clear signal to China and other nations in Asia and around the world that America is back in the global leadership business.

A web search for recent remarks by Hillary Clinton about Chinese power projection and control of the East and South China Seas yielded nothing. A search of the issues section of Clinton’s campaign website yielded -- nothing. Her issues section does address “Protecting animals and wildlife” and “LGBT equality.”   

An April 2015 article at The Diplomat delves into what a Clinton presidency might mean in terms of Asia. The article draws on an essay that ran at Foreign Policy under Clinton’s name when she was Secretary of State, as well as remarks she gave in the 2010-11 timeframe.

The Obama presidency has been dedicated to a “pivot to Asia,” which amounts to an historic reordering of American national interests and priorities. Engagement in Asia is recognized as vital to American interests now and long term.

The Diplomat quotes Clinton’s remarks following a meeting of ASEAN ministers in 2010:

The United States supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all claimants for resolving the various territorial disputes without coercion. We oppose the use or threat of force by any claimant. While the United States does not take sides on the competing territorial disputes over land features in the South China Sea, we believe claimants should pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN convention on the law of the sea. Consistent with customary international law, legitimate claims to maritime space in the South China Sea should be derived solely from legitimate claims to land features.   

The statement from Secretary of State Clinton is couched, process-driven, and legalistic in tone. That’s what you’d expect from the nation’s top diplomat. But with each passing day, the Chinese are demonstrating that the niceties of process and international legal understandings aren’t availing against a nation bent on hegemony, greater wealth through seizure, and a role equal to or surpassing the United States in global affairs.

China’s ambitions won’t be blunted by rulings in international courts or tribunals. American military might, it’s willingness to project and use it, ongoing dialogue, and drawing unambiguous lines are the best bet of deterring China’s aims in the East and South China Seas. Then it takes a president who shows resolve in the teeth of China’s challenges.

Trump’s pledge to reform the Chinese-American relationship, rebuild the military, and advance vital U.S. interests seems to be better position him to engage and deter the Chinese. It would be good to hear more from Trump regularly about the need to counter China in a strategically critical area of the world.