Close Call Foreshadows Growing Tensions in South China Sea

Sergio Conner
October 6, 2018

The plan suggests sailing ships and flying aircraft near China's territorial waters in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in freedom of navigation operations to demonstrate the right of free passage in worldwide waters.

US Vice President Mike Pence denounced Chinese attempts to push the US out of the western Pacific in a speech in Washington DC that also confirmed a confrontation with a US Navy guided missile destroyer in global waters to the west of the Philippines.

The draft proposal from the Navy is recommending the US Pacific fleet conduct a series of operations during a single week in November.

The Philippines on Friday said the problem in the South China Sea needs a "heart-to-heart" talk between regional and nonregional players following the near collision between a United States Navy ship and a Chinese People's Liberation Army vessel near the Spratly Islands on September 30.

"It would be a mistake to think that the Pence speech is just Trumpian nationalism at work", he said.

A US Navy photo shows a confrontation between the USS Decatur (left) and PRC Warship 170 (right) in the South China Sea on Sunday.

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Speaking to reporters, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said these irritants are likely to continue until the U.S. and China and the rest of the regional players sit down and discuss the issue.

The Australian newspaper reported the US's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defence for South and Southeast Asia, Joseph Felter, saying China aims to establish "dual-use" facilities, such as commercial ports, which could ultimately be converted to military bases.

The US Navy proposal was being driven by the military, CNN said, without giving a precise date.

US Naval officials deemed the close call "unsafe and unprofessional", condemning China for making what it said was a deliberately provocative manoeuvre. Flying the South China Sea: Snooping and cinnamon buns The proposal for now focuses on a series of operations in the Pacific, near China, but they could stretch as far as the west coast of South America where China is increasing its investments. If the initial proposal was approved, the missions could be expanded close to Russian territory, it said.

"The US debate on China has shifted rapidly and structurally, on both sides of politics, as demonstrated in the recent Defence Appropriations act".

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