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All the saber rattling in the world won’t do a thing if China is able to successfully implement its anti-access strategy in the South China Sea. China’s deployment of the strategy is likely nearing completion.
Defense analysts have warned that China is working on a strategy to lock the United States out of the South and East China Sea with what they call anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems and capabilities.
This would give China control of the Asia-Pacific region, and, among other things, make it difficult for the United States to intervene if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were to invade Taiwan.
Dean Cheng, a leading expert on the Chinese military, warned in a July 2014 report for The Heritage Foundation that the Chinese military was “comprehensively modernizing” forces, and incorporating A2/AD systems ranging from anti-ship missiles to political warfare methods, including legal, public opinion, and psychological warfare.
The world has now watched as China deployed these weapons and capabilities, over the last couple years.
China has recently deployed jets, radar, and anti-air missiles on islands in the South China Sea. It may also be building a new helicopter base for anti-submarine warfare, along with refueling stops scattered through the region. Chinese defense analysts are now calling for Chinese ships to ram and fire warning shots at U.S. ships passing through the region. Others are calling for the CCP to deploy anti-ship missiles and other advanced weapons.
When the CCP’s weapons and strategies used in the South China Sea are viewed as a whole, it now has systems to attack targets in the air, sea, and undersea. And it has accompanied this with a near constant barrage of propaganda and legal claims meant to change global perceptions on its actions.
While the situation has appeared chaotic, the CCP’s strategy has actually moved along steadily.
The CCP announced in July 2015 that it was completing operations to build islands in the South China Sea. Epoch Times reported accurately that the CCP was merely moving to “phase 2” in its operations.
“It means they’re moving onto phase 2, which means the construction of facilities and capabilities on these islands,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, at the time.
The CCP is now well into that second phase, and when that’s complete, phase 3 will likely follow.
And that third phase is likely what defense experts have been warning about for years: a phase where the CCP acts on its threats, and starts attacking foreign military ships and jets passing through the region.
This next phase may not be far off. On Feb. 28, South China Morning Post reported, “China’s military is prepared ‘to defend sovereignty’ in the South China Sea.”
It quoted People’s Liberation Army General Wang Jiaocheng saying “No country will be allowed to use any excuse or action to threaten China’s sovereignty and safety,” and added, “the foremost mission is to safeguard rights and interests in the South China Sea.”
From here, whether the CCP succeeds in its plan hinges on whether or not the United States chooses to back down—and it doesn’t appear the U.S. military plans on doing that anytime soon.
Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, recently said the CCP is “changing the operational landscape in the South China Sea,” and said the United States will continue its patrols of the region as it always has, regardless of threats or claims from the CCP.
“Short of war, I’m aware of the threat. I’ll pay attention to the threat,” he said. “But that is not going to prevent us from flying, sailing or operating wherever international law allows.”