President Obama should not let slide his last summit meeting with Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leader Xi Jinping, who needs to hear that he is pitching Asia toward war and that the United States will finish what he starts.
Of course, China hopes to avoid such complaints during the September 4-5 G-20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. But as China appears ready to increase its aggressive pressures against its neighbors there is little time to set clear red lines and to prepare for conflict so as to better deter it.
Following the July 12 ruling by the Permanent Council for Arbitration in The Hague that China’s expansive Nine-Dash-Line, and specifically its newly reclaimed island military base on Mischief Reef, are both illegal under the Law of the Sea Treaty, it is now necessary for the United States to declare that China’s actions in the South China Sea are a threat to peace in Asia.
Washington should publicly call on Beijing to dismantle its new island bases in the Spratly Island Group, which in the next 12 months could host about 50 combat aircraft and scores of anti-aircraft and long-range anti-ship missiles. The United States should also make clear that China’s commencement of base construction on Scarborough Shoal, 123 miles from Subic Bay in the Philippines, will be met by U.S. and Philippine forces as part of our Mutual Defense Treaty obligation.
Washington should also give the Philippines about 200 of its 186-mile range ATACMS tactical missiles. Washington and Manila should also consult regarding the deployment of a wing of U.S. land-based combat aircraft to Philippine bases.
Further to the North, China continues its military buildup intended to intimidate and perhaps in the near term, attack the democratic island of Taiwan. For generations Taiwanese have lived under the threat of Chinese attack and to their credit, have developed a vibrant democratic culture and an increasing Taiwanese identity.
These undermine the legitimacy of China’s authoritarian state and its claims to the island, which is why for the first time in about 50 years, the PLA is nearing the real capability of invading Taiwan. Taiwan requires immediate U.S. assistance with its indigenous submarine program and it also requires asymmetric weapons like thousands of small inexpensive but long range attack missiles such as the Raytheon MALD, to deter China from attempting an invasion.
Just to the North of Taiwan, China is actively trying to goad Japan into a military clash in the East China Sea. For about four years China has used its Coast Guard ships, fishing ships, and its Navy and Air Force, to bully Japan into surrendering the Senkaku Islands which it administers. But if it gets the Senkakus China has indicated it will go for the entire Ryukyu Island Chain, including Okinawa where U.S. and Japanese forces are based.
Tokyo is now beginning to reinforce its Sakashima Island Chain, very close to the Senkakus, with new Marine forces and combat aircraft, and it is developing a new 186-mile range anti-ship cruise missile for these islands’ defense. Washington should applaud Japan’s reinforcements, offer to double the number of U.S. Marine MV-22 aircraft in Okinawa from 24 to 48, and urge Tokyo to buy more MV-22s and F-35 fighters.
And then in South Korea, China is having a howling diplomatic tantrum over the South Korean and U.S. decision to base 124-mile range Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) missiles to counter North Korea’s imminent nuclear warhead armed missiles. For many years now, Washington should have been calling out China’s blatant assistance to North Korea’s new missile capabilities, especially China’s provision of complex trucks that allow Pyongyang to conceal and deploy its missiles.
For example, in late 2011 the United States observed China’s transfer of six CASIC-Sanjiang 16-wheel TEL trucks that now carry North Korean KN-08 and KN-14 nuclear intercontinental missiles capable of reaching U.S. cities, but it has failed to criticize China or sanction CASIC.
Here is where the Obama administration could make a real contribution to America’s defense and withdraw from the sham Six Party Talks now led by China, and also withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which bars the United States from having medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles.
Instead, Washington should publicly demand that China take back all of the missile-carrying trucks it has given to North Korea, and commence emergency production of medium and intermediate range conventional and nuclear armed ballistic missiles. Washington should also immediately offer South Korea and Japan NATO-style “shared” basing of tactical nuclear weapons. Further, we should reinstall tactical nuclear weapons aboard our deployed U.S. Naval Forces.
In short, this is no time for lame duck leadership. America and her allies face the real threat of near-term war with China. Bold leadership can deter such a war.
James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations. Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.