United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 23, 2015
Executive Summary: US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently declared that the United States would not recognize the Mainland's man-made reefs in the South China Sea and their 12 nautical mile territorial waters. Sources say President Obama has dispatched military vessels to these waters to exercise the right to freedom of navigation. Their arrival is imminent. The Mainland media and Mainland military experts consider this a flagrant violation of China's sovereignty, and say that China will be forced to take countermeasures. If the two sides continue down this path, a PRC-US showdown in the South China Sea is imminent.
Full Text Below:
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter recently declared that the United States would not recognize the Mainland's man-made reefs in the South China Sea and their 12 nautical mile territorial waters. Sources say President Obama has dispatched military vessels to these waters to exercise the right to freedom of navigation. Their arrival is imminent. The Mainland media and Mainland military experts consider this a flagrant violation of China's sovereignty, and say that China will be forced to take countermeasures. If the two sides continue down this path, a PRC-US showdown in the South China Sea is imminent.
Will PRC vs. US conflict erupt suddenly in the South China Sea ? Or will the result be a long drawn out wrestling match?
The PRC is a land power. The United States is a sea power. As such their thinking is fundamentally different. The PRC sees the South China Sea as "maritime territory". It sees territorial waters as if they were dry land. By contrast, sea powers such as Spain, Britain, and now the United States, consider the seas open to all. Anyone's navy may enter. In other words, whoever has the most powerful navy may assert control. As a result, when the People's Liberation Army Navy entered the waters off Alaska, the US reaction was muted.
The US view is that the South China Sea must remain open, and that this openness must be enforced through a show of strength. Otherwise the PRC will be insatiable. Last year it was the 981 drilling rig. This year it is land reclamation. The US accuses the PRC of swallowing up the South China Sea. The US State Department argues that if the US military fails to patrol the South China Sea, it will lead to greater destabilization.
But the US must choose which reefs to target with care. The South China Sea has "low-tide elevations", i.e., land above water at low tide, but submerged at high tide, such as Mischief Reef. The United States argues that under international law these do not qualify as territorial waters. It does not recognize PRC sovereignty over them. It emphasizes the right to freedom of navigation through these waters, and freedom of overflight over them. High-tide elevations are land which remain above water at high tide, such as Yongshu Reef. There, the PRC has undertaken land reclamation. The US military may not dare enter.
What action would the US take? PRC military experts say that the United States has three Zumwalt Class Littoral Combat Ships. Their maximum speed is 60 knots. They are highly maneuverable. They are highly suitable for infiltrating and exfiltrating the 12 nautical mile zones surrounding artificial reefs. P8A Poseidon anti-submarine patrol aircraft may be deployed to probe the airspace. But some think the Littoral Combat Ships, which weigh only 3000 tons, would have difficulty surviving collisions with PRC Coast Guard cutters. The United States might dispatch 10,000 ton Aegis destroyers, and simultaneously provide air cover.
The two sides are now at loggerheads. The clash does not appear to be military conflict however, but political posturing. US Secretary of Defense Carter loudly proclaimed that "the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea will not be an exception". He served notice to Southeast Asian allies. The implication was that they should rest assured. The United States will remain in the Asian Pacific region. It will ignore the PRC's claims regarding territorial waters and airspace.
Japan, Australia, Vietnam and other allies, are of course unhappy with the Mainland's claims of historical sovereignty over the South China Sea. But expecting them to take part in US military action is another matter. Some Asian-Pacific countries would like to see the United States challenge the PRC. But that does not mean they are willing to allow themselves to be dragged into the conflict. So far, only the Philippines has expressed support, and then only for diplomacy.
The PRC knows the United States is bluffing. During last weekend's Xiangshan Forum, CCP Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Fan Changlong declared that on matters concerning China's territorial sovereignty, the PRC "never lightly resorts to force". This reminded the United States not to misjudge the situation. It let people on the Mainland know the PRC's bottom line, and to allow public sentiment to cool.
Based on US announcements, US military aircraft and warships are likely to enter waters surrounding the PRC's artificial reefs in the next few days. But given the two sides' posture, the PRC and the US are likely to exercise self-restraint and avoid conflict. Several years ago the PLA declared its "East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone". The United States sent bombers through the zone without prior notification. Symbolically it ignored the new control zone. But it did not go beyond that. The two sides were then able to stand down.
What is worrisome is that this might be the beginning of a long term struggle between the PRC and US in the South China Sea. Current high-profile US posturing is intended as deterrence. Current PRC forbearance is intended to buy time. The two sides will find it difficult to maintain the status quo through negotiation. When Xi Jinping visited the United States, he said the PRC was "not militarizing new reefs". Clearly the United States did not believe him. As a result, it took military action to test PRC resolve. This ironically, provoked the PRC into making military preparations. Neither side is likely to concede.
The ROC occupies Taiping Island, the largest island and reef chain in the South China Sea. It has fresh water, and is the only one suitable for human habitation. But Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Mainland are all busy with land reclamation and runway extensions. The ROC is also stepping up construction. But it lags far behind others. Yongshu Reef is currently the largest. It is now over three times larger than Taiping Island.
The PRC and US are clashing in the South China Sea. Yesterday NSB Chief Yang Kuo-chiang said Taipei wants close relations with Washington and peace with Beijing. Therefore it is in no position to issue strong declarations concerning the South China Sea dispute. We would liie to remind whatever government takes office next year – do not change existing policy. If Taipei attempts to curry favor with the United States, and renounces historical claims of sovereignty as manifested in the nine-dotted line, there will be serious consequences.
美國不會承認大陸在南海填建的人工島礁及其十二海里的領海範圍； 據透露， 歐巴馬總統已批准美軍派遣船艦進入這些海域行使自由航行權， 近日即將抵達該海域。對此，大陸媒體和軍事專家同表反對， 認為這是對中國主權赤裸裸的侵犯，中國將被迫採取反制； 事態若持續發展，可能導致中美在南海攤牌。
其基本思維大相逕庭。中國視南海為「海洋領土」， 把海域當成土地一樣看；而海權國家如過去的西班牙、 英國到現在的美國，認為海域是開放的，誰都可以前往， 誰的海軍強大即決定誰具有控制力。也因此， 中國解放軍海軍雖進入阿拉斯加海域，但美國表現得非常淡定。
中方一定會得寸進尺。從去年的九八一鑽井平台， 到今年的填島造陸，中方不斷在南海蠶食鯨吞， 所以美國國務院才會說：美軍若不對南中國海進行巡航和飛越活動， 會導致更多破壞穩定的行為。
南海中的「低潮高地」──即在低潮時才會露出水面的礁岩， 如美濟礁等，美國認為依國際法無權劃定領海， 不承認其屬於大陸主權， 強調有權在該島礁四周海域行使航行與飛越的自由。至於高潮高地， 即在漲潮時也仍浮現水面的礁岩，如永暑礁，經中方填島擴大， 美軍也未必敢造次進入。
美國擁有三艘「朱瓦特」級的濱海戰鬥艦，速度最高達到六十節， 轉彎靈巧，最適宜在人工島礁十二海里附近快進快出。另外， Ｐ８Ａ海神反潛巡邏機則可能用來測試領空。但是也有人認為， 濱海戰鬥艦僅三千噸，不易招架大陸海巡船之衝撞， 美方可能派出萬噸級的神盾艦，同時兼顧防空屏障。
就不準備出現軍事衝突，而僅止於政治動作。 美國防部長卡特高調聲稱，「只要是國際法允許的地方， 美國軍隊都可以航行、飛行和行動，南海也不例外。」 隨即通報東南亞盟邦。其言下之意是：大家放心， 美國會繼續留守亞太，不會理會中國宣布的領海領空。
當然不滿大陸假藉歷史主權霸佔南海；然而， 要它們力挺乃至參與美軍的行動，則是另一回事。 部分亞太國家樂見美國挑戰中國，卻不意味他們願意把自己捲入。 目前，僅有菲律賓表示外交支持。
上，中共中央軍委副主席范長龍聲稱， 即使在涉及領土主權的問題上，中方「絕不輕言訴諸武力」。此語， 除提醒美方不要誤判，也讓大陸內部知道政策底線，讓輿論降溫。
美軍機艦未來數日即可能進入中國在南海的人工島礁領海； 但從雙方的姿態看，中美都會自我克制，避免衝突。 就如幾年前解放軍宣布「東海防空識別區」後， 美方派出轟炸機通過，事先不通報，象徵性地不理會新管制區， 但也不挑釁，雙方各有下台階。
美方的高調是為了威懾，中方的隱忍則是為了爭取時間， 雙方很難經由協商達成維持現狀之共識。習近平訪美時曾稱「 不進行新島礁的軍事化」，顯然美方並不相信他的承諾， 所以要藉由軍事動作作出試探。這勢必促使中方進行軍事準備， 不會有哪一邊先退讓。
且是唯一適宜人居的。但是，在越南、 菲律賓與中國大陸競相填海造陸、延伸跑道的熱潮下， 雖然我國也在加強島上的建設，卻已遠遠落後他國； 目前永暑礁已成最大島礁，超過太平島三倍大。
台灣既要親美又要和陸，不宜在南海之爭表達立場。 我們也要提醒明年五月將上任的新政府：不要輕易改變既有政策， 如果台灣企圖討好美國，而宣布放棄九段線的歷史主權， 必將引起嚴重後果。