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How Beijing does not retreat across the South China Sea

According to international marine law, the US destroyer had priority. But the Lanzhou forced the US captain to essentially reverse his 500-foot 8,500-ton battleship to avoid a collision within seconds.

The two ships came in September at a distance of less than 41 yards from each other in front of the embattled Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, the US Navy said at that time, the Chinese warship "carried out a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers, where the Decatur was warned to leave the area. "

It was one of 18 encounters since 2016 between the US Navy and China's military that Washington classified as "unsafe or unprofessional" last year, and just one of many hotspots in the South China Sea.

The situation is unlikely to improve in 201

9 either. The tensions are showing little signs of easing, and some analysts predict that they could actually get a lot worse.

Do Not Give Up

China has claimed almost the entire 1.3 million square mile South China Sea as a sovereign territory and aggressively asserted in recent years in the face of conflicting claims by several Southeast Asian nations.

"China will not curb its attempts to control the South China Sea in its entirety," said Malcom Davis, a senior defense analyst of strategy and capability at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy in Canberra.

"Basically, the Chinese want to make the South China Sea their lake."

But the US will not leave China in one step, the most valuable waterways in the world.

Washington says that China's construction and fortress of artificial islands in the South China Sea provides billions of dollars for trade, travel and communication under the thumb of Beiji ng.

"The Trump government will not withdraw in the face of Chinese pressure," Davis said. This would "seriously undermine the credibility of the US (US) and encourage the Chinese to be more confident and brave".

  British warship sails near China controlled islands in the South China Sea

He predicts US Navy warships will continue to perform "freedom of navigation" near the embattled islands. This was the case, according to analysts, about every eight weeks in 2018.

Allies in the US, including Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and France, have also sent warships to the South China Sea, or plans to send them, even though they are not as close to the islands claimed by China, how the US Navy came] For each of these operations, there is a risk of miscalculation, as evidenced at the end of September by the near miss of Lanzhou-Decatur.

Militarized Islands

While critics of US and Chinese actions in the South China Sea say they could do it quickly Some Beijing commentators have called for the Navy to go further.

"When a US warship re-enters Chinese territorial waters illegally, two Chinese warships should be sent out, one to stop it and the other to launch it and sink it," said Dai Xu, president of Chinese Institute for Safety and Maritime Cooperation was cited in an article on the Chinese-language website.

Analysts warned that Dai is not officially speaking for the People's Liberation Army. The former US Navy captain, Carl Schuster, said, however, that Dai's comments on the PLA website represented some degree of support within the military.

"The goal is to see if (the US) will go back to avoid such an incident," said Schuster, a former Operations Director at the Joint Intelligence Center of US Pacific Command.

  The China-controlled artificial island of the Mischief reef in the South China Sea, as CNN saw on August 10 from a US reconnaissance plane. 19659023] The China-controlled artificial island of the Mischief reef in the South China Sea, as CNN had seen from a US reconnaissance plane on 10 August.

China could push that too Anders in an envelope in 2019, says Davis, the Australian-based analyst. This included the introduction of new weapons on man-made islands in the Mischief Reef or Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys.

In May, China landed in the long range H -6 km bomber on Woody Island, the largest base of the P aracel chain. It was the first time that the nuclear jets had landed in the South China Sea.

While the move attracted much attention, the PLA had long been represented in the Paracels states and the chain sits to the north of the South China Sea.

CNN Interactive: The Battle for the South China Sea
  The White House warns China of increasing militarization in the South China Sea

But if the H-K6 appeared on similar slopes on Mischief or Fiery Cross in the Spratlys in the south, Australia or Guam's US territory could come within its reach.

China could also form a base for additional and advanced surface air or anti-ship missiles on the Spratlys, making it possible to hit anything moving in or over the South China Sea. Such a move could have a huge impact as one-third of global shipping flows through the waterway and some of the world's busiest corridors run across it.

Rising Tensions

In addition to further militarization of controlled islands, Davis could even go so far as to declare the waters between them a sovereign Chinese territory – not just the 12-mile line off the coasts of the islands as it is now.

"That would be a step toward the entire South China Sea," he added.

But experts warned that Beijing would risk a risky game and trigger an unwelcome response from Washington.

"Brinksmanship tactics could provide Beijing with several strategic advantages if successfully implemented, but the risks are enormous and the result could be catastrophic," said Timothy Heath, an Asia expert at Rand Corporation.

Hostilities could also jeopardize China's vulnerability to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the agreement with the Maritime Disputes Settlement Association.

In August, the states China and ASEAN – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – drafting a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea has been drafted, although still significant differences overcome before a final agreement is reached.

Five ASEAN states – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – have competing claims to parts of the Spratly and Paracel chains.

All Chinese disputes with these countries could provoke greater conflict, said Isaac Kardon, of the China Maritime Studies Institute at US Naval War College, Rhode Island.

Although such clashes might initially be small, they could spread to other powers and escalate.

"The US probably would not be involved in such incidents, but depending on the facts and the degree of escalation, this could put the US Navy in a difficult situation with the PLA Navy," said Kardon.

Yet, without such a clash, it seems that a slowdown in tensions between the US and China is far from over.

  Xi Jinping's Chinese Power Show in the South China Sea
Chinese President Xi Jinping promised in June that there would be no retreat from his country's position in the South China Sea.

"Our attitude is unwavering and clear when it comes to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Xi, adding, "every inch of territory passed down from ancestors can not be lost while we want nothing from others . "could lie.

"Growing competition between the US and China is driven not only by the traditional dynamics of power politics between an established and an emerging power," said Adm. Phil Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, in November. "I think we are facing a much more serious face – a fundamental deviation of values ​​that leads to two irreconcilable visions of the future."

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