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Offbeat‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea

20:25  08 november  2018
20:25  08 november  2018 Source:   nytimes.com

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The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant. China , Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines have competing Freedom of navigation in the region is also a contentious issue, especially between the United States and China over the right of U . S . military vessels to operate in

The South China Sea problem has been militarized and internationalized: what now? The United States and China are making good on their November 2014 agreements on two sets of military In short, CBMs that seek to avoid or mitigate the risk of maritime clashes need to be accompanied by

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea© Bryan Denton for The New York Times An American naval officer on the Chancellorsville, a guided-missile cruiser, in the South China Sea in 2016. China claims nearly the entire sea as its own.

HONOLULU — From a distance, the Chinese warship warned the American destroyer that it was on a “dangerous course” in the South China Sea. Then it raced up alongside, getting perilously close. For a few tense minutes, a collision seemed imminent.

The American vessel, the Decatur, blasted its whistle. The Chinese took no notice. Instead, the crew prepared to throw overboard large, shock-absorbing fenders to protect their ship. They were “trying to push us out of the way,” one of the American sailors said.

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China , by contrast, is an increasingly assertive global rival, sending naval vessels to the Baltic Sea Tariffs could hurt such companies if the United States and China follow through on their plans. They also risk losing their competitiveness if Beijing succeeds in subsidizing the creation of large Chinese

These dangerous Russian games of chicken are now regular occurrences and come hard upon a Russian In 1972, the United States and Soviet Union concluded the Prevention of Incidents at Sea And here lies the problem. Limiting the risks of miscalculation between NATO and Russian military

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Only a sharp starboard turn by the Decatur avoided a disaster in the calm equatorial waters that early morning in September — one that could have badly damaged both vessels, killed members of both crews and thrust two nuclear powers into an international crisis, according to a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the encounter in detail.

The ships came within 45 yards of each other, marking the closest call yet as the United States Navy contests China’s military buildup in the South China Sea. The Sept. 30 encounter signaled what American commanders fear is a perilous new phase in confrontations in the disputed waterway, which are unfolding without even a Cold War-style agreement on basic rules of conduct aimed at preventing escalation.

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But globalization means the chicken restaurant of your enemy' s friend can also become your enemy. In September 2012, a dispute between China and Japan over some uninhabited islets in the East China Sea stoked protests that began with online calls for boycotting Japanese automakers and

A clash may be inevitable. The struggle between the US and China for control of the South China Sea is symptomatic of a much deeper “ clash of civilisations”. At this stage, as White points out, the American leadership seems to see the Sino- US struggle as a win-lose game , that is , “a question of whether This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Clash of the titans.

“A game of chicken is being played around Asia’s flash points,” said Brendan Taylor, an expert on the South China Sea at the Australian National University.

“It is only a matter of time before a clash occurs,” Mr. Taylor said, adding that he sees significant potential for such an event to escalate into a larger crisis.

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea© Petty Officer 2nd Class Diana Quinlan/U.S. Navy, via Associated Press The Decatur, an American destroyer, and a Chinese warship nearly collided in the South China Sea in September. The two navies have no agreement on rules of conduct that could keep a conflict from escalating.

China’s defense minister, Wei Fenghe, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis are expected to make an effort to calm those rising tensions and reduce the risks of miscalculation when they meet in Washington on Friday.

But the trade war and Vice President Mike Pence’s speech last month declaring that the United States would take a far tougher line on China give the two men little incentive to ease tensions in the waterway.

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Despite their shared history and geographic proximity, China is not Japan, something President-elect Donald Trump should remember when he attempts to bully China into submission, according to analysts.

Of course this carries risks for China . It does not want to fight America, so it must be confident in the judgment that America will back down and desert its Asia today therefore carries the seeds of a truly catastrophic episode of mutual misperception. Both Washington and China are steadily upping the

Despite the risks, neither side appears ready to back down.

The United States and China “will meet each other more and more on the high seas,” the chief of naval operations, Adm. John M. Richardson, warned after September’s near miss.

The Trump administration told the Navy last year to execute more operations against China’s territorial claims, and it has sent warships more frequently to waters near the artificial islands China has bulked up with aircraft hangars, runways, deepwater harbors and, most recently, short-range missiles. Washington also recently asked allies to contribute their ships to the task.

“In response to this situation I believe that China will have to take the necessary measures to increase the cost of such provocative actions by the U.S. and other relevant countries,” said Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China, who often reflects the view of the Chinese Navy. “Otherwise the actions of the provocative parties will only be more frequent and unscrupulous.”

The near crash with the Decatur showed, however, the dangers of the rivals squaring off against each other.

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A military clash between China and Vietnam is also a concern. In May 2014, China deployed a deep- sea oil rig in Vietnam' s two hundred–nautical To further reduce the risk of an accident between U . S . and Chinese forces, the two militaries should implement their joint commitment to conclude an

Recent press reporting of continuing Chinese construction activities at its reclaimed islands in the South China Sea has revived focus on maritime issues. These latest stories layer on top of a large body of commentary in recent years about the risk of a great power clash between the United States

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea© Reuters A 2015 satellite photo of Gaven Reef, which China has enlarged and fortified with armaments. The near-miss between the Decatur and the Chinese warship, the Lanzhou, took place near it. The incident occurred as the Decatur, with 300 crew members, sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven Reef, a pair of outcroppings in the sea that China has enlarged and fortified with weaponry since 2014. The Chinese destroyer, called the Lanzhou, with a similar number of seamen, sped up from behind and overtook it.

This account of what happened is based on interviews with American officials, as well as a video released by the British Ministry of Defense to The South China Morning Post that was described as authentic by an American defense official.

As China deploys more planes and ships to challenge American dominance in the region, such encounters may become more frequent. The United States says there were 18 unsafe incidents in the air and at sea between Chinese and American ships and aircraft in the Pacific region last year, a slight increase from previous years.

The lack of an agreement between China and the United States on the rules of the game in the South China Sea raises the risk of a deadly mishap, analysts say.

In 2001, a collision between a Chinese fighter jet and an American EP-3 spy plane over the waters off Hainan Island killed a Chinese pilot and soured relations for months. The two governments later agreed to set up a hotline between their militaries for handling such incidents, but that channel was not entirely effective.

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The bigger risk , he said, is a clash caused by China ’ s paramilitary ships that could bring American forces to bear in defense of American allies. A wall map of the South China Sea sprinkled with islands hangs to the left of his desk. Black circles show the three artificial islands in the Spratly

Xi Jinping says China ’ s ‘territorial sovereignty and marine rights’ in the seas will not be affected.

During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow abided by an Incidents at Sea Agreement that more or less governed the way the navies of the two countries operated. But the naval contest between the United States and China is different.

Then, Moscow and Washington wanted to ensure freedom of navigation of the high seas to allow both powers to pursue their global interests. The rivalry between Beijing and Washington, however, centers on China’s territorial claim over virtually the entire South China Sea and America’s efforts to challenge it. The two sides have staked such adamant positions that any compromise to defuse or avoid confrontations seems unlikely.

The mission of the Decatur was to make the point that the high seas are open to all, and that the 12-mile zones claimed by China as sovereign territory do not stand up to international law. The Chinese argue that international law, as defined by a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, does not apply.

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea© Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Chinese naval vessels taking part in a drill near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China has been rapidly expanding and modernizing its navy.

In 2014, the United States and China, along with other countries, signed the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, which mimics aspects of the earlier pact with the Soviets and spells out protocols for confrontations.

But the code is voluntary, and it does not address the basic question of territorial waters and who can go where, said Collin Koh, a maritime specialist at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore. “It’s more like a gentleman’s agreement,” he said.

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Leading from behind at a time when tensions are only mounting would be a tragic mistake.

A Risky Game of Chicken . What the White House has failed to appreciate throughout this drama is the longer it talks about FONOPS without actually The U . S . may not have suffered for dithering in 2010 in the Yellow Sea , and FONOPS around China ’ s artificial islands may well proceed in the coming days

Last week, Admiral Richardson urged China to “return to a consistent adherence to the agreed code,” which he said would “minimize the chance for a miscalculation that would possibly lead to a local incident and potential escalation.”

In effect, he was asking Chinese vessels to stop acting act as lords of the South China Sea.

The growing sense of confrontation is enhanced by American concerns that its ships and crews are on the defensive after 70 years of unquestioned power across the Pacific Ocean.

In May, the head of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, told Congress that China controlled the South China Sea “in all scenarios short of war.”

That has led to a re-evaluation of the Navy’s strategic and spending priorities. As the Trump administration pushes the Navy to do more in the South China Sea, it is doing so with fewer assets just as the Chinese are increasing theirs.

‘A Game of Chicken’: U.S. and China Are Risking a Clash at Sea© Bryan Denton for The New York Times A Chinese frigate as seen through binoculars on the Chancellorsville in 2016. American naval commanders fear their ships and crews are on the defensive after 70 years of unquestioned power across the Pacific.

In 2017, China had 317 warships and submarines compared to 283 in the American Navy. Even with 60 percent of the Navy in the Pacific, a smaller total force means fewer deployments around China’s periphery.

A projection by the Pentagon shows that by 2025, China’s military will have 30 percent more fighter aircraft and four aircraft carriers compared to its current two, a senior American military official said. The Chinese are also expected to have significantly more guided-missile destroyers, advanced undersea warfare systems and hypersonic missiles, the projection says.

The American concerns about Beijing’s naval modernization are reflected in a fictional account titled “How We Lost the Great Pacific War,” written by the director of intelligence and information operations of the Pacific Fleet, Dale F. Rielage, and published in an official Navy journal.

The article portrays a possibly dark outcome for the American Navy in the Pacific.

Written in the form of a military dispatch from the year 2025, the author laments how the Navy had to “cannibalize aircraft, parts and people” and wonders if it will be able to “claw” its way back in the Western Pacific.

At the heart of this bleak prognosis is an assumption that the United States did not act aggressively enough in challenging China when it still could.

The article describes how an admiral, at the start of his term as chief of naval operations, saw that the Americans’ margin of victory in high-end naval combat had become razor thin — and would continue shrinking. “At the time, he assessed that the margin, though thin, remained ‘decisive.’ In the years following, however, the margin shifted imperceptibly to favor the other side.”

The article never names the “the other side,” but makes clear: it is China.

Jane Perlez reported from Honolulu and Steven Lee Myers from Beijing. Follow them on Twitter at @janeperlez and @stevenleemyers

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