Monday, 17 May 2021

South China Sea: Why breakdown in communication could lead to US-China War

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Chinese and American destroyers came close to colliding in the South China Sea back in September 2018. The USS Decatur on a freedom of navigation exercise came within 41m of China’s Lanzhou destroyer with Beijing accusing the US of being provocative. Wu Shicun, the president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, says a recent breakdown in intergovernmental communications could be enough to spark armed conflict.

Mr Wu told South China Morning Post: “I think the risks of conflict are rising, especially after the near-collision between the USS Decatur guided-missile destroyer and China’s destroyer the Lanzhou in September in the South China Sea.

“If situations get out of control and a crisis happens, the impact on bilateral relations could be devastating.

“And that’s why dialogue is needed.”

Two years ago, Washington DC withdrew an invitation for multinational naval exercises.

The US said this was because of the People’s Liberation Army deploying missile systems and landing bomber crafts on the Spratly Islands.

Earlier in June, Taiwan revealed it had to scramble warplanes to warn away Chinese jets that had crossed the Taiwan Strait and approached the island.

The intervention occurred not long after a US transport plane had flown over the same area.

Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University, added: “I am quite concerned as the encounters of the two armies in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait appear not to be incidental but intentional, both at sea and in the air.

“Dealing with such intentional encounters requires not only safe manoeuvres but also political and strategic trust so that the intentional encounters do not escalate into hostile operations.

“I think the Indo-Pacific command [US personnel who have not communicated with Chinese counterparts since 2017] should engage in communication with the Chinese counterparts.

“This is acquaintance-building between the two armies.

“We can’t just rely on speculation to know each other.”


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The US and Chinese were on opposite sides in civil wars in Korea and Laos.

The Korean War would ultimately end in a stalemate.

In Laos, the US-backed forces would lose leading to the foundation of a one-party state under the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

The two sides would again find themselves on opposite sides in Vietnam.

The USSR and Chinese backed North Vietnam would ultimately win the conflict and annex the US-backed South Vietnam.

China would support the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian Civil War.

The United States would initially support the Kingdom of Cambodia and then the successor Khmer Republic.

The republic would ultimately fall and the Khmer Rouge win.

China is also thought to be a close ally of Syria.

The US is opposed to the Syrian government.

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