On November 13, President Obama claimed that ISIS was “contained.” One day later, ISIS painted bloody red lines on Paris streets. The credibility of American foreign policy took another big hit.Then came Saturday’s Wall Street Journal report that last week, “an American B-52 bomber on a routine mission over the South China Sea unintentionally flew within two nautical miles of an artificial island [Cuarteron] built by China.” This seemed like good news, suggesting that Obama was challenging — under cover of an “unintentional” foray — China’s imperial project in the East China and South China Seas. That would be welcome, because China’s project intends to subjugate U.S. allies, seize lucrative energy reserves, and dominate crucial trade routes. And Obama seems to realize this. At November’s APEC summit, he offered “shared commitment to the security of the waters of this region and to freedom of navigation.” In October, President Obama sent an American destroyer within twelve miles of another artificial Chinese island.My hopes in the president were misplaced.
These artificial islands are not sovereign territory, are not recognized as such under international law, nor (theoretically) by the United States.
And yet, to prevent China from establishing them as de facto sovereign territory, the US (and one would hope, others) must routinely conduct Freedom of Navigation exercises in the airspace and waters nearby. Ideally, there would be a B-52 overhead on a weekly basis, either simply flying past, or even conducting simulated bomb runs. Either would be perfectly legal under international law.
The Chinese can complain, loudly. To which our answer should be, “So what?”
The Chinese could further make pests of themselves, through various means short of actual violence. To which we have a variety of equally obnoxious counters, all short of violence.
And of course, should China resort to violence to prevent overflights, we could return the favor quite handily. Small islands make lovely targets.
But is that what the US is doing?
Of course not. The White House is silent. The Pentagon is currently in the process of throwing the B-52 crew under the bus, and the State Department is busy telling the Chinese how very sorry they are about those meathead jocks in the Air Force being mean.