South China Sea Time Bomb: Beijing Sets “Red Line” on Japan-US Joint Operations

In this April 26, 2012 file photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese navy's missile destroyer DDG-112 Harbin fires a shell during the China-Russia joint naval exercise in the Yellow Sea

 

The Chinese Ambassador to Japan warned that Beijing would not concede on the demand or relinquish their sovereignty over the South China Sea even if it meant the two countries went to war.

On Saturday, diplomatic sources confirmed that China had issued a severe warning to Tokyo in late June demanding that Japan refrain from dispatching Self-Defense Forces to join US operations testing the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.Japan will “cross a red line” if SDF vessels take part in the freedom of navigation operations, Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua conveyed to Tokyo at the time. Cheng threatened military action if Japan failed to comply with the ultimatum.

The warning came two weeks prior to The Hague international arbitration court’s adverse ruling deeming the waters and territory that the Chinese people had historically viewed as their own were to be stripped of their control and that Beijing must immediately remove itself from the disputed territory.

China immediately denounced the ruling, on both substantive and procedural grounds, vowing not to comply with the court’s ruling. The proceedings were triggered unilaterally by the Philippines, a move supported by the United States, without China submitting itself to the authority of the court’s ruling. The court not only lacked requisite jurisdiction over the matter, but many legal scholars interpreting the Law of the Sea Treaty believe that China has the strongest claim based on its longstanding control of the disputed area.

Beijing has become irate over international pressure calling for it to comply with the court order in the name of international law, which China views the ruling itself violates, coming predominantly from regional competitors Japan and Australia as well as from the United States.

Those tensions risk spilling over with a Chinese state-run newspaper already issuing a warning to Australia that it would be the “ideal target for a strike” and repeated warnings to Japan to avoid intervening. Further complicating tensions, Reuters misreported that Vietnam had installed rocket launchers pointing at Chinese military assets over the territorial dispute leading China’s press to caution Hanoi to remember the consequence of the last-time the two countries went to war in 1979.

While Tokyo continues to assert pressure on Beijing over the arbitration ruling, despite not itself being a party to the dispute, a Japan Times editorial left unsigned sought to offer reassurance saying that “the Japanese government has no plans to join the freedom of navigation operations, in which the United States since October has sent warships near artificial islands that China has built in the South China Sea.”

The statement of measured and reserve action comes after revelations that Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua told Japan explicitly not to take part in “joint military actions with the US forces that is aimed at excluding China in the South China Sea” and stating that China “will not concede on sovereignty issues and is not afraid of military provocations.”

The stakes for Beijing are high in the South China Sea where over 40% of the world’s shipborne trade transits through each day. The waters also are home to one of the world’s largest deep-sea oil and natural gas deposits and serves a critical function for stretching China’s regional military reach.

Visit to Beijing by US Admiral to Seek Calm Amid Storm Over South China Sea

Adm. John Richardson delivers remarks during the commissioning ceremony of the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner (SSN 785) at Naval Station Norfolk.

 

US Chief of Operations Admiral John Richardson will visit China next week to promote smooth sailing in encounters between US and Chinese warships in South China Sea, according to the US Navy.

WASHINGTON             US Chief of Operations Admiral John Richardson will visit China next week to promote smooth sailing in encounters between US and Chinese warships despite the two countries’ disagreements over who owns the South China Sea, the US Navy announced in a press release.

“The goal of the three-day visit to Beijing and Qingdao is to improve mutual understanding and encourage professional interaction between the two navies,” the release stated on Thursday.

Talks between Richardson and People’s Liberation Army Commander Admiral Wu Shengli will include the South China Sea, the ongoing Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise and future opportunities for the two navies to operate together.

Beijing claims ownership of more than 90 percent of the South China Sea, a vital international waterway through which more than half of global commercial shipping passes.

Earlier on Thursday, two Chinese aircraft landed on artificial islands near the Philippines and blocked a Filipino boat from approaching a contested shoal, according to press reports from the region.

China’s action marked the latest show of defiance against an international tribunal ruling earlier in the week that Beijing’s territorial claims were baseless.

US and Chinese warships frequently meet in tense encounters in the South China Sea during US-led exercises that are intended to defy Beijing’s claim by emphasizing the waterway’s international status.