South China Sea warning: US on collision course with 'emboldened' Beijing – tensions mount

Speaking at the end of a week which has seen Taiwanese air, sea and land forces conduct live-fire exercises simulating the repulsion of Chinese invasion, as well as the redeployment to the waterway of USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan, Richard McGregor, a China expert at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, offered a grim assessment of the situation. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described most of China’s claims in the South China Sea, where it has fortified numerous uninhabited islands, as “completely unlawful”. However, Mr McGregor said China was nevertheless pushing ahead with its plans, undeterred by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

There will be no recalibration in Beijing. It’s full steam ahead

Richard McGregor, a China expert at the Lowy Institute in Sydney

He added: “The US feels it is late to the game, and is now looking at every option to push back against China.

“But China under Xi is not going to consider any backward step.

“There will be no recalibration in Beijing. It’s full steam ahead.

“Neither side is looking for an off-ramp. Don’t expect this to dial down anytime soon.”


A Thunderbolt-2000 fire rockets during the exercises (Image: PA)

Taiwan jet

A Taiwan jet takes part in the drill (Image: PA)

Alexander Neill, an Asia-Pacific security consultant in Singapore Explaining China’s revitalised expansionist ambitions, added: “It’s basically a fait accompli.

“I would expect the US to challenge any fresh grabs, but China has already created the military bases and civilian infrastructure.

“They are saturating the South China Sea with their presence.

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OH-58D helicopters

OH-58D helicopters fire at simulated targets (Image: PA)

“Populating the islands is the clear objective.

“They have moved on to their second phase to make the waterway irreversibly Chinese.”

In Taiwan, the drills, known as “Han Kuang”, were held on a coastal strip near Taichung, involving F-16 and domestically made Ching-kuo fighter jets, plus about 8,000 personnel.

They follow recent wargames involving US vessels and those of Japan.

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President Tsai Ing Wen

President Tsai Ing Wen, dressed in military fatigues, watches the exercises (Image: PA)

M60A3 tanks

M60A3 tanks drive on the seashore (Image: PA)

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, who advocates a “fundamental reset” of the UK’s policy towards China in the light of its belligerence.

Speaking at a meeting of the defence select committee of which he is chairman earlier this month, he said of China’s operations in the South China Sea: “It’s only a matter of time before they put in air limitations in addition to the marine one which is there already.

“Once they’ve done that it won’t be Hong Kong we are considering.

South China Sea

South China Sea (Image: Express)

“It will be Taiwan that’s under pressure there as well.”

China, led by President Xi Jinping, regards Taiwan part of “one China” and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.

Speaking to earlier this week after the publication of a new Policy Institute report entitled The Future Strategic Direction of NATO which he co-authored, former National Security Adviser Lord Ricketts emphasised the danger of war being triggered by accident in the region, stressing the importance of keeping lines of communication open between different members of the alliance and with China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (Image: GETTY)

He said: “It’s mainly a risk in places like the South China Sea, and it is mostly the Americans which are the Western country which is most active there.

“So yes, that’s a risk and that is why you need ways of de-escalating if something is developing from an accident or some unplanned event.

“NATO in terms of its military side is limited to the area of its member states so it would not have a military role if there was conflict around Taiwan, for example.

“What we are suggesting in this paper is that NATO ought to be a place where the allies talk about China.”

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