The United States may be heading for another Red Line moment–this time with China.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel making his fourth trip to the South China Sea region recently, wanted to reassure Japan and other nations that the U.S. stands with them if China pursues stated territorial annexation. The “Sleeping Dragon” has arisen, hungry for the small mostly uninhabited islands in the East and South China Sea claimed by Japan, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Mr. Hagel’s visit comes on the heels of Russia’s takeover of Crimea which had been part of Ukraine. The fear is that China has been emboldened by Russia’s move, leading to similar action over the long disputed islands. China claims their rights to the islands go back 2,000 years, which could possibly include the international waterways between them. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton previously noted that unimpeded navigation access was important to U.S. national interests. More than half of the world’s merchant goods flow through these waters.
Mr. Hagel announced that two additional guided missile destroyers would be sent, bringing the total to seven U.S. warships in the China Sea region. The news gave Chinese officials the opportunity to showcase their newly refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its J-15 fighter jet strike group, signaling China’s growing global reach. China’s claim of territorial sovereignty over the islands was made very clear. Any provocation would require a response—crossing their Red Line. China has a growing global appetite, expanding its economic interests in every continent. Chinese warships could soon be cruising off the coasts of Africa, South America, and North America to protect their interests.