By Aaron Kesel
Tensions are continuing to rise between world superpowers. China has ordered its military to “enhance combat readiness” following a test of a MOAB (mother of all bombs); Russia and Iran are planning drills in the Atlantic; and the U.S. just sailed a Navy destroyer through the contested South China waters.
Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping Friday ordered the Chinese armed forces People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to enhance their combat readiness to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests after the U.S. had issued a travel warning to China stating Americans were at risk to arbitrary and indefinite detention.
“The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development,” Xi said, to the Central Military Commission (CMC) warning that various risks and challenges were on the rise. “The entire armed forces should have a correct understanding of China’s security and development trends, enhance their awareness of danger, crisis and war, and make solid efforts on combat preparations in order to accomplish the tasks assigned by the Party and the people,” Xi added according to a press release.
This followed the test of China’s dubbed Mother Of All Bombs, (MOAB) only a day prior, according to the official Xinhua news agency which described the bomb as the “Chinese version of the ‘Mother of all Bombs,'” Dawn reported.
The bomb’s strength was compared second to that of a nuclear weapon, according to the agency.
The bomb was dropped by a Chinese H-6K bomber, while the location, the date of the drop, and the range of the bomb blast weren’t publicized.
Presumably, the U.S. responded by sending a U.S. Navy destroyer the USS McCampbell into the contested Chinese waters, near the disputed islands in the South China Sea during ongoing trade talks in what China called a “provocation,” Reuters reported. Although a spokesperson for the fleet denied it was a political statement.
The destroyer carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain, “to challenge excessive maritime claims”, Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said in an emailed statement to Reuters.
BREAKING: U.S. says its navy ship sailed in South China sea on Monday to challenge 'excessive maritime claims' pic.twitter.com/HJcj9YGnfX
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) January 7, 2019
This comes after a senior Chinese military official Dai Xu (戴旭), threatened U.S. Navy vessels in the South China Sea, recommending that China should attack the ships, Activist Post reported.
Xu recommended aggressive action against the U.S. if it “breaks into Chinese waters again” stating the following: “If the U.S. warships break into Chinese waters again, I suggest that two warships should be sent: one to stop it, and another one to ram it… In our territorial waters, we won’t allow US warships to create disturbance,” Taiwan News reported.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang stated that the U.S. operation had violated China’s and international law, and China had lodged “stern repercussions.”
“We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” Kang said, adding that China had sent its own military ships and aircraft to identify and warn the ship.
China’s Defense Ministry further added that the ship had “gravely infringed upon China’s sovereignty.”
“We will be on high alert and will closely monitor the air and sea situation to strongly defend our sovereignty and security,” China’s defense ministry said in a message carried by Chinese state media.
Over the past few weeks, several events have elevated the U.S. geopolitical tension with China, which since the Obama administration has been in turmoil after failed diplomatic discussions. It all started in 2012 when China and the Philippines engaged in a lengthy maritime feud which resulted in rejections of the verdict by China in 2016, increasing the chances of potential conflict in the region.
In 2016, an arbitration court ruled that China had(s) no historic title over the waters of the South China Sea and that it in doing so breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights with its actions.
China reacted by boycotting the proceedings, rejecting them and stating that the ruling was “ill-founded.”
One year later in 2017, China announced the creation of two Chinese-controlled international maritime courts that would be used to provide China’s interpretation of maritime law, Epoch Times reported.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte responded by stating that the man-made islands aren’t pointed at them.
“It’s not intended for us. The contending ideological powers of the world or the geopolitics has greatly changed. It’s really intended against those who the Chinese think would destroy them and that is America,” Duterte noted. “We did nothing.”
The Philippines also announced earlier last year possible discussions for joint South China Sea projects, which may have been an attempt at the time to ease the tension, Japan Times reported.
China insists that it has “historic rights” over the region which the countries dispute.
For centuries various countries have fought over the territory in the South China Sea – two specific island chains known as Paracels and the Spratlys – and fought over areas alongside the sandbanks and reefs, such as the Scarborough Shoal (known as Huangyan Island in China). These waters are a main import and export point that allows the passing of five trillions of dollars worth of global trade flow annually through the waters, according to Forbes.
“It’s a question of if those islands are in fact in international waters and not part of China proper, then yeah, we’re going to make sure that we defend international territories from being taken over by one country,” former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.
China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei all have laid competing claims to the area.
Beijing states its right to the area goes back centuries to when the Paracel and Spratly island chains were regarded as integral parts of the Chinese nation. In 1947 the Communist nation issued a map detailing its claims.
However, in the past few years, China has begun building man-made islands that many countries and U.S. officials have disputed as being military bases.
Former Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson during his confirmation hearing attacked China for “declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s,” comparing China’s deployment of its military to other islands, to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“The island building in the South China Sea itself in many respects in my view building islands then putting military assets on those islands is a kin to Russia’s taking of Crimea,” Tillerson stated.
China responded to Tillerson’s statement at the time telling the U.S. “speak and act cautiously” after the White House said it would act to foil Chinese attempts to “take over” the South China Sea.
Another key factor rising tensions is the U.S. recognizing Taiwan and encouraging to send senior officials to Taiwan to meet Taiwan counterparts under the Taiwan Travel Act, which detested China, Yahoo News reported.
Xi issued further public statements issuing threats to Taiwan to surrender to Chinese rule or expect military action. In that speech, Xi stated, “we make no promise to abandon the use of force, and retain the option of taking all necessary measures,” according to the New York Times.
“Reunification is a historical trend and it is the right path. Taiwan independence is an adverse current of history and is a dead end,” Xi said, adding a subtle note to the United States that “foreign interference is intolerable.”
This may be the red line drawn in the sand on U.S. and Chinese relations. The act, though not legally binding, is said to “severely violate” the One-China principle, as well as the three joint communiqués the US signed with the People’s Republic of China.
In comparison, Mike Pompeo the new Secretary of state has drawn a policy essentially that China is an enemy stating they are the “greatest challenge” in regards to a threat to the United States.
“Over the five, ten, twenty-five year time horizon, just by simple demographics and wealth, as well as by the internal system in that country, China presents the greatest challenge that the United States will face in the medium to long-term,” Pompeo said, adding, “there is no doubt it’s an even bigger challenge than Russia,” in an interview with radio host Hugh Hewit.
That was until the Trump, administration arrested Meng Wanzhou, the Huawei chief financial officer who was arrested in Canada last week and is now facing extradition to the United States. On top of that, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened China on Twitter, calling himself “a Tariff Man,” which ultimately dramatically escalated the stakes of the trade war.
However, despite the Trump administration’s move to imprison and extradite Wanzhou reports indicate that momentum isn’t slowing down among trade negotiators determined to reach a deal. The Chinese have until March 1st, according to Trump; if there is no deal at the end of the 90 days, the U.S. will then proceed to raise tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to an astoundingly wild 25 percent.
It’s worth noting earlier last year, one single day after signing the economic tariffs and China retaliating, the U.S. sent the USS Mustin destroyer within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-claimed islands, which China warned off, Asia Times reported.
In November of last year, the U.S. also quietly sent two naval vessels through the Taiwan Strait four days after the Taiwanese elections, with little coverage from the press, Taiwan News reported.
Right now it’s just the potential for a trade war, but things could escalate well past economic sanctions; and Beijing’s state media has previously warned any attempt to prevent China accessing its interests in the region of the South China Sea could risk sparking a “large-scale war.”
It certainly looks like that’s where we are heading as Activist Post reported that “the Trump administration planned to escalate the U.S. trade war with China for its alleged involvement stealing American trade secrets and technology and hacking into government and corporate computers.” A serious accusation to make combined with the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, and Trump stating he could intervene, which looks to be like a form of blackmail since his administration was responsible.
To make matters worse, the U.S. may have just furthered that divide with the charging of two Chinese citizens — Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong — with damage to at least 45 U.S. tech companies and government agencies.
Prosecutors also directly accused the two of operating in agreement with the Chinese government.
“China will find it difficult to pretend that it is not responsible for this action,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a press conference.
The U.S. State Department has issued a level 2 alert warning that “U.S. citizens may be detained without access to U.S. consular services or information about their alleged crime. U.S. citizens may be subjected to prolonged interrogations and extended detention for reasons related to ‘state security.'” The report further added, “Security personnel may detain and/or deport U.S. citizens for sending private electronic messages critical of the Chinese government.”
Meanwhile, Russia and Iran — two prominent allies of China – are both independently planning drills on the Atlantic coast. Russia plans to deploy long-range, precision cruise missiles to the Western Atlantic that American defense officials say will allow Moscow to target Washington and other East Coast cities with conventional or nuclear missile attacks.
Moscow is adding Kalibr land attack cruise missiles to both warships and missile submarines that Moscow plans to use in Atlantic patrols near the United States, Free Beacon reported.
All of this coincides with Iran, planning to deploy warships in the Atlantic later this year in March, Reuters reported.
“The Atlantic Ocean is far and the operation of the Iranian naval flotilla might take five months,” Rear-Admiral Touraj Hassani was quoted by the state news agency IRNA.
Less than 6 months ago in September Russia held its annual fall military exercises, Vostok-2018, in collaboration with China.
The two countries joined together for various drills, with 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft, 36,000 combat vehicles and as many as 80 ships that were involved, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry. While China had a lesser number of troops on the ground estimated at 3,000 soldiers along with aircraft and helicopters.
The drills took place across five different training areas, as well as the Sea of Japan, the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and were seen as the largest drills in decades, NPR reported.
The U.S. itself is also planning a drill in the Black Sea, the Pentagon asked the State Department to request permission from Turkey to sail ships into the sea, which borders both Ukraine and Russia as access to the Sea of Azov, a key area for a string of confrontations between Moscow and Kiev, last month, Activist Post reported.
Meanwhile, AFP reports that “The U.S. military will conduct this year its first ever missile drill around Okinawa, according to a report Thursday, as Washington seeks to counter an increasingly assertive China.”
Further, Activist Post reported that after a NATO meeting, U.S. and NATO jointly told Russia to abide by the INF nuclear weapon treaty set up during the Cold War, while America has threatened to pull out of the treaty itself giving the country 60 days to comply with demands from the date of the meeting.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quoted stating:
“During this 60 days we will still not test or produce or deploy any systems, and we’ll see what happens during this 60-day period,” he said.
“We’ve talked to the Russians a great deal. We’re hopeful they’ll change course, but there’s been no indication to date that they have any intention of doing so.”
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted by Interfax news agency stating that “Russia strictly abides by the provisions of the (INF) treaty, and the American side knows this.”
Vladimir Putin himself has said it is “too early” to return the Ukrainian sailors and naval vessels, accusing the Ukrainian government of provoking an incident as a distraction from its own domestic economic problems.
“We need to establish the fact that this was a provocation by the Ukrainian government and we need to put all these things on paper,” he added, arguing that the incident was part of a wider pattern of Ukrainian provocation.
“The current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this at all,” Putin said. “As long as they stay in power, war will continue. Why? Because when you have provocations, such hostilities like what just happened in the Black Sea … you can always use war to justify your economic failures.”
Interestingly enough, Russia responded to calls for it to honor the INF treaty by appearing to test new laser-based weaponry called Peresvet, Gizmodo reported.
“Peresvet laser systems, based on new physical principles, entered combat service in a testing regime with the Russian armed forces,” Russian Defense Ministry’s newspaper said, according to an English translation.
This came after Russia ran a drill flying two of its nuclear-capable strategic Tu-160 bombers over the Caribbean Sea during a 10-hour training mission, WSBTV reported.
According to CNN, the Pentagon’s insane request to travel through the Black Sea amid tensions is unclear if the U.S. Navy plans to follow through. However, it could be the striking point that spurs conflict between the two countries.
It’s also further worth noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself recently stated that the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated as tensions have risen between NATO countries and Russia within the past few months. Putin added that U.S. withdrawal from the treaty could spur “global catastrophe” and that he hopes “common sense will prevail.”
This is visibly seen by Russia’s suggesting that it will build bases on the Caribbean and build up its existing Arctic strongholds and a planned drill in the Atlantic.
“We’ll finish building infrastructure in 2019 to accommodate air defense radar units and aviation guidance points on the Sredny and Wrangel Islands, and on Cape Schmidt” in the Russian Arctic, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said according to France 24.
The report noted that NATO held its biggest military exercises since the end of the Cold War near Russia’s Arctic border with Norway earlier this year.
As for the Caribbean, in combination with the socialist nation of Venezuela which also has sanctions against it by the U.S. government, Russia plans to build a base and a military presence presumably in response to the U.S. suggesting it will pull out of the INF treaty, in La Orchila, Venezuela according to TASS.
According to military envoys, Russian authorities have made a decision (and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did not object) to deploy strategic aircraft to one of Venezuela’s islands in the Caribbean Sea, which has a naval base and a military airfield. Ten years ago, Russian experts and Armed Forces commanders had already visited the island of La Orchila, located 200 kilometers northeast of Caracas. Venezuelan laws prohibit the setup of military bases in the country, but a temporary deployment of warplanes is possible.
“It is the right idea to include Venezuela in long-range aviation missions,” military expert Colonel Shamil Gareyev told the newspaper, adding that it was also economically reasonable. “Our strategic bombers will not only not have to return to Russia every time, but also won’t perform aerial refueling while on a patrol mission in the Americas. Our Tu-160 aircraft arrive to their base in Venezuela, conduct flights, execute their missions and are then replaced on a rotating basis. This is how it should be done,” he said.
Colonel Eduard Rodyukov, a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Military Sciences, in turn, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “the arrival of Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bombers to Central America is kind of a signal to Trump to make him realize that abandoning nuclear disarmament treaties will have a boomerang effect.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded in an angry rant by stating that the drills were a waste of public funds. “Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” Pompeo said on Twitter. “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”
If you don’t hear those war drums by now you aren’t paying attention. The sad fact is that conflict could break out between these superpowers at any moment; and while that may be paranoid to state, the extensive military movements happening can’t be dismissed. So far, it’s just a lot of smoke and a war of words with no fire, but that could quickly change if someone were to make the “wrong move.”
Aaron Kesel writes for Activist Post. Support us at Patreon. Follow us on Minds, Steemit, SoMee, BitChute, Facebook and Twitter. Ready for solutions? Subscribe to our premium newsletter Counter Markets.