Recently CNN was granted access to a P8-A Poseidon surveillance mission over the growing South China Sea. In the past this area was nothing more than a few reefs, but “In just two years, China has expanded these islands by 2,000 acres — the equivalent of 1,500 football fields — and counting, an engineering marvel in waters as deep as 300 feet.”
China sees these islands as a valuable asset. So much so that they have moved a large military presence to the area to guard their efforts.
“Fiery Cross Reef is now home to military barracks, a lofty lookout tower and a runway long enough to handle every aircraft in the Chinese military. Some call it China’s ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier.'”
This, in addition to the early warning radar system shows just how committed China is to the area.
The early warning radar system was even used to warn the Poseidon that it needed to leave. In fact, “the Chinese navy ordered the P8-A out of the airspace eight times on this mission alone.” The American pilots reminded them that this was international airspace, meaning they had no claim over the skies, but it just served to further agitate the Chinese Navy. Eventually out of frustration they responded, “This is the Chinese navy … You go!”
All of this grandstanding from the Chinese Navy could be seen as a way “challenge U.S. dominance in the region.” Over the last few years China has ramped up their efforts to increase their military power.
“Beijing is sailing its first aircraft carrier; equipping its nuclear missiles with multiple warheads; developing missiles to destroy U.S. warships; and, now, building military bases far from its shores.”
Not only has the increased presence in the South China Sea put pressure on the U.S., but it has also raised tensions for China’s neighbors. Including the longtime U.S. allies, the Philippines.
When asked about the situation, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told CNN that these actions, “could ‘absolutely’ lead to war between the U.S. and China.” However, he goes on to say that, “war is ‘not in their interests, (and) it’s not in our interests.'”
While the current tactic for both parties seems to be to ignore the others, it is certain that tensions will increase in the South China Sea before this is all settled.[CNN]