An ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea over a stretch that comprises more than 750 reefs, banks, and shoals known more generally as the Spratly Islands continues to heat up.
Late 2015 saw a severe escalation when the United States announced that it would send warships directly into a zone which China lays claim to. The U.S. has continued to counter China’s claim to sovereign territory, which (officially) dates from 2009, with a series of military maneuvers that many believe could spiral dangerously out of control.
Perhaps emboldened by a lack of overt resistance, the U.S. subsequently upped the ante of its strike force by sending three nuclear-equipped B-2 Stealth Bombers this past March. As reported by The Free Thought Project, even that wasn’t enough, as the overall mission was backed by the largest exercise of its kind, just outside the contested territory.
This maneuver was followed in April by the announcement that the U.S. was prepared to launch submarine drones into the contested space to augment its manned ship presence. Shawn Brimley, an official for the Center for a New American Security, stated the reasoning:
The idea is that if we were ever to get into a bust-up in the South China Sea, the Chinese would not know for sure what sort of capabilities the US might have … This might have some deterrent impact on the potential for provocative behaviour.
Well, China might now understand what capabilities the U.S. has, or at least has received proof of submarine drone deployment.
CNN cites an unnamed U.S. defense official that China “stole” one of two underwater drones being commanded from the USNS Bowditch operating in international waters within the disputed region. It is being reported by CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that the USNS Bowditch is in fact an “oceanographic vessel” and that “the drone was simply measuring ocean conditions.” However, it should be noted that a Reuters report adds that the collected info about water composition “can help inform U.S. military sonar data since such factors affect sound.”
The Pentagon itself has not yet commented on the incident (see update 1 below – Ed.), nor has China declared their reasoning for the seizure (see updated 2 below – Ed.), but that didn’t stop CNN’s correspondent to imply that the incident could have been spurred by President-Elect Trump’s “violation of the US’s agreement with China’s ‘One China policy'” after he received a call from the president of Taiwan.
Perhaps, but the dangerous U.S. military games being played in The South China Sea have occurred long before Donald Trump came on the scene. As the Navy Times stated in October 2015:
When reports that the U.S. was planning to challenge China’s island claims surfaced in May (2015), a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson urged “relevant countries to refrain from taking risky and provocative action,” according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
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Since that statement there has only been escalation, and any use of submarine drones in the region seems like a very unwise “risky and provocative” maneuver, especially as wider political tensions continue to rise. It will also be interesting to see if China releases any technical information about the particular drone that they seized.
UPDATE 1: Pentagon spokesman, Jeff Davis, issued a statement that the United States government considers this event to be theft of military property, and is a serious and unlawful action. The drone is valued at $150,000. “It is ours, and it is clearly marked as ours and we would like it back. And we would like this not to happen again,” Davis stated. (Source – ZeroHedge)
UPDATE 2: China has accused the U.S. of “hyping up” the seizure of their drone as a “theft” when, they assert, they were merely trying to examine unidentified equipment that a naval vessel became concerned about. Regardless, they have announced that they have been in communication with the U.S. and will give back the drone. According to Reuters, China’s Defence Ministry added the following comments:
“China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the ministry said on its website.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump weighed in to the row on Saturday, tweeting: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”
Without directly saying whether the drone was operating in waters China considers its own, the ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in “the presence” of Chinese waters.
“China is resolutely opposed to this, and demands the U.S. stops this kind of activity,” it said.
China will remain on alert for these sorts of activities and take necessary steps to deal with them, the ministry said without elaborating.
(Source: Yahoo! News/Reuters)
Feel free to leave your comments below on where these continued confrontations are likely to lead.