Yves here. The latest North Korean rocket launch is now the lead story at the BBC, yet it’s hard to find press coverage of this dust-up in South China Sea.
By David Llewellyn-Smith, founding publisher and former editor-in-chief of The Diplomat magazine, now the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics website. Originally published at MacroBusiness
Asia has just taken a giant leap towards disaster: The combat jets of four nations have squared off above a disputed island. Vietnam is challenging an aggressive Chinese spy ship. And the Philippines has appealed to the US for protection.
Overnight, a chaotic confrontation unfolded above a tiny island claimed by both South Korea and Japan. Chinese and Russian bombers infringed the territory, with Tokyo and Seoul fighting over the right to defend the airspace. South Korea says it fired more than 300 warning shots at the Russian bombers.
Meanwhile, Hanoi has accused Beijing of violating its sovereignty by sending a survey ship to Vanguard Bank, which sits within Vietnam’s UN-recognised 370km (200 mile) exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Beijing arbitrarily claims the South China Sea — in its entirety — as its own.
…It came shortly after a demand by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for the protection of the US Navy after a deadly collision in the disputed Spratly Islands.
“I’m calling now America. I am invoking the RP-US pact, and I would like America to gather their Seventh Fleet in front of China. I’m asking them now,” he said during an interview.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus has called on Beijing to “cease its bullying behaviour and refrain from engaging in this type of provocative and destabilising activities”.
…Beijing has ignored US calls for a “hotline” to de-escalate tensions in the region.
…Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed earlier this year that “any armed attack on Philippines forces, aircraft or public vessels in the South China Sea” would trigger the treaty with the Philippines.
But Beijing has been making clever use of “grey zone” tactics to avoid a formal confrontation.
Such tactics are designed to generate sufficient uncertainty and “plausible deniability” under international law and rules of engagement to cause opponents to hesitate.
For that reason, Beijing is using its government-controlled fishing fleet and nominally civilian coastguard to aggressively lay claim to territory — and not its officially designated military warships.
We also have China setting out its new uber-aggressive White Paper outlining how everyone else to blame and the US responding with the traditional naval bird, via Bloomie:
An American warship’s sail past Taiwan was the sixth such voyage this year — the most since President Donald Trump took office — as the U.S. ramps up military support for the democratically run island.
The guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam completed a transit through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday, Seventh Fleet spokesman Clay Doss said, adding that it “demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. China, which views such passages as provocative because they reaffirm American support for Taipei, urged Washington to “avoid undermining China-U.S. relations and the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”
Just another day in Cold War 2.0.