China cancelled an important annual security meeting planned for mid-October with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Beijing, according to an unnamed US official, cited by the NYT. The reasoning behind the decision was that no senior Chinese military official would be available at that moment.
The decision to withdraw from the diplomatic and security dialogue is the latest sign in the escalation of tensions between the US and China, it began with the US-initiated trade war and has now affected other areas of interest, such as Taiwan, arms sales and the South China Sea.
“For us, in the United States, competition is not a four-letter word,” the senior official, Matt Pottinger, who deals with China on the National Security Council. He said that the United States was intent on competing with China — brittle language that is usually absent from formal events.
As reported by the NYT, Vice President Pence is expected to deliver a major speech this week describing the administration’s negative views of China’s international behavior over the last number of years, including what it sees as efforts to influence American domestic politics.
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on a Chinese state military company for buying weapons from Russia, and announced sales of $330 million in military equipment to Taiwan.
China was also irritated by a Pentagon announcement last Wednesday that B-52 bombers had flown over the East China Sea and the South China Sea as part of its “continuous bomber presence in the region.”
On September 27th, China condemned the recent US overflights. “As for the provocative action taken by the US military aircraft, we are firmly against it and we will take all necessary means to safeguard our rights and interests,” Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said.
China also held its own live drills, after the B-52 flights over the South China Sea. Jet fighters and bombers from the Chinese military carried out live-fire exercises over the same area. Aircraft from the Southern Theater command of the People’s Liberation naval air force conducted “live fire shooting drills” at a sea range in the South China Sea, according to the People’s Daily official newspaper, which released photos from a broadcast by state-run CCTV.
The Foreign Ministry signaled last week that the arms sale to Taiwan threatened may cause “severe damage” to relations with the United States, including “bilateral cooperation in major fields.” So, the cancelled annual meeting is unsurprising.
On September 25th, China refused a request by an American warship to make a port visit to Hong Kong in October.
US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad also published a strongly worded opinion article on Sunday in his hometown newspaper, the Des Moines Register. He wrote that Trump seeks to level the playing field between US companies and Chinese competitors by imposing the tariffs.
“Unfortunately, China has responded to such action by taking further steps to harm American workers, farmers and businesses through retaliatory actions — and is now doubling down on that bullying by running propaganda ads in our own free press,” he said.
On September 28th, in an obvious provocation, US Navy and Marine Corps carried out a series of live-fire drills in the South China Sea. Units attached to the USS Wasp Amphibious Ready Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit executed a series of air and sea-based defensive drills, designed to “improve their proficiency when integrating fires [support]” during potential combat operations in the Pacific.
The exercises conducted by Navy and Marine Corps forces were geared toward defensive operations against possible threats posed to U.S. and allied forces in the South China Sea, according to a Marine Corps statement.
“The DATF rehearsal demonstrated the full integration of Marine Corps and Navy capabilities showcasing the intensity of joint firepower available to defend Wasp, and our forces, in a wide range of combat situations,” said Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU. “Our ironclad Blue-Green partnership allows us to continuously hone our lethality through training and exercises, in preparation for any operation.”
This drill follows an assessment by the Pentagon which claimed that Beijing was actively preparing for military strikes against US forces stationed in the Pacific. The assessment concluded that China wants to greatly expand its scope of influence in the region and wants to demonstrate to other world powers, especially the U.S., that the capabilities of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have increased dramatically.
“The PLA may continue to extend its operations beyond the first island chain, demonstrating the capability to strike U.S. and allied forces and military bases in the western Pacific Ocean, including Guam,” the Defense Department analysis said.
On September 30th, the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur sailed near Chinese territories in the South China Sea in an obvious provocation. The US Navy’s freedom-of-navigation operations “challenge excessive maritime claims and demonstrate our commitment to uphold the rights, freedoms, and uses of the sea and airspace guaranteed to all nations under international law,” an unnamed US official was cited by Business Insider.
The South Korean destroyer Munmu the Great recently sailed close to Chinese-occupied territories in the South China Sea to steer clear of a typhoon. Beijing lodged complaints with Seoul over the incident, accusing South Korea of violating Chinese law, which requires ships to request permission when entering China’s “territorial seas.” According to Business Insider, this practice does not conform with international law.
In addition, on September 25th, China asked Britain to respect its territorial integrity and not risk the trust between the two nations after a British warship conducted a freedom-of-navigation exercise in the South China Sea.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, President Donald Trump accused Beijing of seeking to meddle in the Nov. 6 US congressional elections to stop him and his Republican Party from doing well because of his China trade policies. His aides were caught visibly unaware of his accusations, and he did provide no proof whatsoever.