Rattling the Chinese Dragon Over North Korea and the South China Sea

by Robert Carbery

Saturday June 3 was not only a hectic day because of the London Bridge attack but also because of the ratcheting of rhetoric regarding North Korea and China from our leaders.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that North Korea presented a “clear and present danger,” sharp words for the nuclear armed regime. But he also criticized China for increasing the tension over contested islands in the South China Sea.
Mattis seems to believe his sharp words will move China to do what he thinks is in their self-interest — to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. This while Mattis simultaneously pushes China to change course in the South China Sea. He hopes China will come to see the Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea as not an asset it should retain but a liability it should relieve itself of and give up its territorial integrity in another vital region while it’s at it.
What will the U.S. do in the South China Sea? Yes, much of the world’s trade passes through these waters, but will China really restrict access to commercial vessels simply because they are building and militarizing islands in that large region? Or are we just doing what we always do — getting involved where we shouldn’t?
“We oppose countries militarizing artificial islands and enforcing excessive maritime claims unsupported by international law,” Mattis declared. “We cannot and will not accept unilateral, coercive changes to the status quo.” Again, strong words from Mattis saying the right things for the neoconservative core of the national security state.
Mattis is essentially threatening China.
People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Science vice president He Lei refuted Mattis’ “freedom of navigation” claims and America’s “rules-based” order, saying, “There is no such problem as freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. But sending warships to Chinese islands and patrolling adjacent sea areas to conduct military activities does not belong to the scope of the freedom of navigation.”

Beijing is working hard to keep Washington out of its waters that it sees at its own. China also warned that it “has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters.” Is Mattis in over his head inserting himself into the South China sea island-building issue? Or is the U.S. ready to do something about China creating military bases on top of island reefs in disputed waters?
China sees the American intrusion into its affairs the real “illegal” and “provocative” move. The U.S. sees China, as well as Russia, as the last major states of resistance against American imperialist ambitions. As we seek global dominance, we do not like to be bullied in any way.
Back in North Korea, it appears the generals might have finally caved for now. The aircraft carriers Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson withdrew from the Sea of Japan amid tensions in and around North Korea.  
We will likely need to redeploy a bigger show of force to the south where China is building islands. The USS Nimitz will remain to monitor the situation around North Korea and will be joining Japan and India for joint exercises in the Indian Ocean in July before heading to the Persian Gulf.
Can the United States accept another country it does not like to have nuclear weapons? Can America learn to prosper alongside China while not threatening eventual war over islands in the South China Sea? Will the U.S. learn to stop antagonizing Russia and China simply because it wants to dominate the world at every turn in every region no matter the cost?
We never learn our lessons. But we will surely avoid war with China or Russia, right? Unfortunately, throughout Earth’s history, the world’s top two powers have always eventually gone to war for superiority when the second rising power reaches the level of the incumbent superpower.
Only time will tell when we get there.

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