Washington Times on February 23, 2016, reported that the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific has warned that China was bent on achieving “hegemony in East Asia”. Excerpts below:

Navy Adm. Harry Harris Jr. issued a bracing warning about China’s increasing assertiveness during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on February 22, hours before a report that Chinese fighter jets had been deployed to a disputed Island in the South China Sea (see a separate report below) — the latest in a series of provocative moves by Beijing to bolster its sovereignty claims against its regional rivals.

U.S. officials confirmed the report…but cautioned against reading too much into the development because Beijing has been known to send fighter jets on such missions over the years.

Faced with competing claims from Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and others, China has been building up and “militarizing” its possessions in the South China Sea, Adm. Harris said. “You have to believe in a flat earth to think otherwise.”

The South China Sea dispute was clearly a hot topic on Capitol Hill and in the Wang-Kerry discussions.

Beijing’s recent deployment of surface-to-air missiles, its installation of radar facilities and its construction of airstrips on territorially disputed islands are flat-out changing “the operational landscape in the South China Sea,” Adm. Harris said.

While most analysts say the latest developments are unlikely to trigger a direct military confrontation, unease has spread in Washington since last week, when reports emerged that the Chinese military had deployed anti-aircraft missiles on the Paracels Islands chain.

On February 22, the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that China has also built radar facilities in the Spratly Islands, another disputed chain. On February 23, there were reports that Beijing has now sent J-11 and Xian JH-7 fighter jets to the Paracels.

Citing “two U.S. officials” who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Fox News reported that U.S. intelligence had spotted the fighter jets on Woody Island, which has effectively been under Chinese control for more than 40 years but is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

…the Obama administration has already raised the stakes in recent months by sending guided missile destroyers USS Lassen and USS Curtis Wilbur close to disputed areas occupied by Beijing, in an assertion of what U.S. officials said was the right of transit through international waterways.

The Pentagon also has conducted sea and air patrols near artificial islands China has built in the Spratlys, including by two B-52 strategic bombers in November.

Some argue that the administration’s approach may be ineffective because Beijing is engaged in a long-game strategy of patience known as “salami-slicing” — effectively carrying out a stream of small actions over time that will eventually amount to a major reorganization of the region’s military landscape.

Robert Haddick, a former editor of the Small Wars Journal and a contractor for U.S. Special Operations Command, wrote in a 2012 analysis for Foreign Policy magazine that U.S. policymakers and military planners should be wary of China’s incremental moves toward dominance.

Beijing’s approach “could confound Washington’s military plans” to contain overt Chinese aggression by growing the U.S. defense footprint in the region, he wrote.

Adm. Harris said…that China’s recent actions present a “strategic opportunity” for the U.S. to beef up its alliances with nations on China’s periphery, including the Philippines and Vietnam, whose leaders have increasingly called on Washington to take a more aggressive posture.

The latest wave of friction over the South China Sea has come against a backdrop of disagreement between Washington and Beijing on another front: North Korea.

Washington Times on February 23, 2016, further reported that In a move likely to further increase already volatile tensions in the region, China has deployed fighter jets to a contested island in the South China Sea, the same island where China deployed surface-to-air missiles last week, two U.S. officials tell Fox News.

Chinese Shenyang J-11s (“Flanker”) and Xian JH-7s (“Flounder”) have been seen by U.S. intelligence on Woody Island in the past few days, the same island where Fox News reported exclusively last week that China had sent two batteries of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles while President Obama was hosting 10 Southeast Asian leaders in Palm Springs.

One U.S. official put the number of Chinese warplanes in the single digits, “under ten,” he said.

Woody Island is the largest island in the Paracel chain of islands in the South China Sea, and has had a runway since the early 1990s. It lies 250 miles southeast of a major Chinese submarine base on Hainan Island. China has claimed Woody Island since the 1950s, but it is contested by Taiwan and Vietnam.

In the last two years, China has created 3,000 acres of artificial islands atop reefs hundreds of miles south of Woody Island in the Spratly chain of islands. One runway was tested in January, when two commercial airliners landed at Fiery Cross Reef.

After the deployment of fighter jets to Woody Island, officials are concerned the Chinese might send them south to the Spratly islands next.

Comment: It is quite possible that China is seeking regional hegemony in East Asia. Two other empires are seeking domination in the rimland of Eurasia (the World Island according to Sir Halford Mackinder): Russia and Iran. One can only hope that the incoming US president in 2017 begins taking the growing challenge to the West by the three anti-Western empires: Russia, China and Iran more seriously.

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