Trailed by two Chinese warships, the guided-missile
destroyer USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-nautical-mile limit of Subi Reef, a
man-made island China claims as her national territory.
(Says China: Subi Reef and the Spratly Island chain, in a
South China Sea that carries half of the world’s seaborne trade, are as much
ours as the Aleutians are yours.)
Beijing’s claim to the Spratlys is being contested by
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan. While Hanoi and Manila
have occupied islets and built structures to back their claims, the Chinese
have been more aggressive. They have occupied rocks and reefs with troops,
dredged and expanded them into artificial islands, fortified them, put up
radars and are building air strips and harbors.
What the Chinese are about is easy to understand. Having
feasted and grown fat on trade surpluses with the United States, the Chinese
are translating their economic strength into military power and a new strategic
assertiveness. They want to dominate East Asia and all the seas around it.
We have been told our warships are unwelcome in the
Yellow Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
(Beijing also claims the Senkakus that Japan occupies,
which are covered by our mutual security treaty.)
And not only is the South China Sea one of the world’s
crucial waterways, the fish within can feed nations and the floor below
contains vast deposits of oil and gas.
Who owns the islands in the South China Sea...
...owns the sea.
Moreover, our world has changed since Eisenhower
threatened to use nuclear weapons to defend Taiwan and the offshore islands of
Quemoy and Matsu — and since Bill Clinton sent two U.S. carrier battle groups
through the Taiwan Strait.
Now we send a lone destroyer inside the 12-mile limit of
a reef that, until recently, was under water at high tide.
What China is doing is easily understandable. She is
emulating the United States as we emerged to become an imperial power.
After we drove Spain out of Cuba in 1898, we annexed
Puerto Rico and the Hawaiian Islands, where America settlers had deposed the
queen, took Wake and Guam, and annexed the Philippines. The subjugation of
Filipino resistance required a three-year war and thousands of dead Marines.
And the reaction of President McKinley when he heard our
Asian squadron had seized the islands: “When we received the cable from Admiral
Dewey telling of the taking of the Philippines I looked up their location on
the globe. I could not have told where those darned islands were within 2,000
In 1944, General MacArthur, whose father had crushed the
Filipino resistance, retook the islands from the Japanese who had occupied them
after Pearl Harbor.
At the end of the Cold War, however, Manila ordered the
United States to get out of Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay naval base. We
did as told.
Now our Filipino friends want us back to confront China
for them, as do the Vietnamese Communists in Hanoi.
Before we get ourselves into the middle of their dispute,
before we find ourselves in an air war or naval clash with China, we ought to
ask ourselves a few questions.
First, why is this our quarrel?
Besides freedom of the seas, what is our vital interest
We have no claim to any of the Spratly or Paracel Islands
in the South China Sea. Yet, each of the claimants — Beijing, Taipei, Manila,
Hanoi — seems to have maps going back decades and even centuries to support
If these islands are Chinese territory, Beijing has the
same right to build air and naval bases on them as we do in the Aleutians,
Hawaii, Wake and Guam.
What do we hope to accomplish by sailing U.S. warships
into what China claims to be her territorial waters?
While the ships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet are superior to
those of the Chinese navy, China has more submarines, destroyers, frigates and
missile boats, plus a vast inventory of ground-based missiles that can target
warships at great distances.
In an increasingly nationalist China, Xi Jinping could
not survive a climb-down of China’s claims, or dismantlement of what Beijing
has built in the South China Sea. President Xi no more appears to be a man to
back down than does President Putin.
Continued U.S. over-flights or naval intrusion into the
territorial waters of Chinese-claimed islands are certain to result in a
violent clash, as happened near Hainan Island in 2001. Where would we go from
China today is in trouble. She is feared and distrusted
by her neighbors; her economy has lost its dynamism; and the Communist Party is
riven by purges and rampant corruption.
If we believe this will be the Second American Century,
that time is on our side, that Chinese communism is a dead faith, we ought to
avoid a clash and show our opposition to Beijing’s excesses, if need be, by
imposing tariffs on all goods made in China.
Apparently both Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have their incoming Washington D.C. phone calls routed straight to voicemail - at least for "us rubes" who rely upon the posted phone numbers: 202-224-4343 (Paul); 202-224-5922 (Cruz).
One can get through to Mike Lee's Washington office: 202-224-5444 (But there's little point; the staffers have no answer to the question of why didn't Lee attempt to organize a true filibuster in a last-ditch attempt to stop the latest congressional outrage.)