US appears to change policy on Beijing’s ‘unlawful’ actions in the South China Sea
The United States and China have long been at odds over maritime freedom in the South China Sea, but this week marked the first time that Washington made an official policy shift to clamp down on Beijing’s activity – calling it “illegal” and thus opening the legal floodgates to a potential military response. © Provided by FOX News Fox News Asia analyst Gordon Chang says ‘China is engaging in behavior that can lead to war through miscalculation,’ as tensions rise once again between the U.S. and China. Today, the U.S.
United States Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday that Washington is counting on Asian partners to help rein in an increasingly aggressive China, as two of the US Navy's most powerful warships conducted drills with allies in the Indian and Pacific oceans. © Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper
Esper accused Beijing of bullying nations around the Pacific, depriving countries with claims in the South China Sea of fishing rights and trillions of dollars of oil and gas revenue. He also accused China of "brazen disregard of international commitments."
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"Make no mistake, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) has been engaged in this sort of behavior for many years," Esper said. "But today, its true intentions are on full display for all to see."
The US defense chief, delivering an online speech to the UK based International Institute of Strategic Studies, said Washington was prepared to uphold its pledge to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific, banking on a three-pillar strategy to do so: "preparedness, strengthening partnerships and promoting a more networked region."
The partnerships were critically important, said Esper, who called them "a strategic network our competitors cannot match."
Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.THE TOPLINE: The House approved its annual defense policy bill in a 295-125 vote on Tuesday, taking a step toward a confrontation with President Trump over stripping Confederate names from military bases.The White House earlier in the day issued a formal veto threat over the legislation in part because it includes a provision that would direct the Pentagon to rename military bases currently named after Confederate leaders.
That network was on display around the Indo-Pacific as Esper spoke from the Pentagon.
In the Philippine Sea, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were joined by Australian and Japanese warships for joint exercises.
And in the Indian Ocean, the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group teamed up with four Indian warships to practice communications and air defense drills.
"I want to highlight our increased defense cooperation with India, one of the all-important defense relationships of the 21st century," Esper said.
Besides India and longtime US allies Japan and Australia, Esper rattled off a long list of Asian nations that are cooperating with the US on military and maritime security issues.
Those included Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam, all nations with claims in the 1.3 million square mile South China Sea, most of which China claims as its own sovereign territory.
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On Thursday, Mark Esper will have served exactly one year as secretary of defense but the last few months have been the toughest of his tenure as tensions with the White House have spilled out in public. © Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testifies during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on July 9, 2020 in Washington, DC. With just under six months to go until inauguration day, Esper is walking a political tightrope.
Esper said not only were US allies and partners upping their cooperation with Washington, they were also working with each other. The US defense chief cited a recent military base access agreement between Australia and India.
The Indian Navy noted the kind of cooperation Esper was talking about when it tweeted Monday about its exercises with the US Navy. Indian warships had recently completed similar exercises with the Japanese and French navies, it said.
While US partners are putting their military hardware in positions to make a statement with the exercises, they are also being vocal about what they see as a more belligerent China.
In its annual defense white paper released this month, Japan said China had been putting continued pressure around the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands, which Beijing calls the Daioyu, while also sending more ships and planes on missions around Japanese maritime and airspaces. Tokyo called these "a matter of grave concern."
It also criticized Chinese actions in the South China Sea.
"China is moving forward with militarization, as well as expanding and intensifying its activities in the maritime and aerial domains, thereby continuing unilateral attempts to change the status quo by coercion," Japan's defense white paper said.
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And what it might mean for the U.S.“Two ancient Asian cultures,” runs the opening line of a leaked 18-page Persian-language draft obtained by the New York Times earlier in July. “Two partners in the sectors of trade, economy, politics, culture and security with a similar outlook and many mutual bilateral and multilateral interests will consider one another strategic partners.
India gets vocal
India has also been more vocal about the South China Sea issue, though unlike Japan it doesn't regularly deploy military forces there. It has no territorial claims in the region, but like many countries it relies on busy shipping lanes in and around the South China Sea.
Twice in May, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs made statements asserting that the waters of the South China Sea are a global common that should be subject to freedom of navigation rules.
"There's nothing new in terms of the position, but the tone and tenor of the statement tells you that India is going to speak in a louder voice on what's happening in the South China Sea," said Abhijit Singh, a senior fellow and head of Maritime Policy Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
In April, the Philippines issued what analyst Richard Javad Heydarian called an "unprecedented solidarity statement" with sometime rival Vietnam after a Vietnamese fishing boat was sunk by suspected Chinese Coast Guard vessels.
"I've never seen anything like that coming out of the (Philippine) Department of Foreign Affairs," said Heydarian, with the Center for International and Strategic Studies.
Claims by the Philippines and Vietnam received a boost earlier this month when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the US had formally rejected "most" of China's maritime claims.
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Washington had sent the message earlier, by deploying the Nimitz and Reagan carrier strike groups to the region. It was the first time in six years that two US aircraft carriers had converged on the South China Sea.
A US Navy statement at the time previewed the message Esper conveyed on Tuesday.
"Nimitz and Reagan form the most effective and agile fighting force in the world, supporting US commitment to mutual defense agreements with regional allies and partners, and promoting peace and prosperity throughout the Info-Pacific," the statement said.
However, Beijing says it is Washington that is threatening the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific.
"The international community knows well who is the troublemaker," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a press conference Monday, according to the state-run Xinhua news service.
Wang accused Washington of harboring "a Cold War mentality" against China and only abiding by international laws and treaties that advanced its policies, according to Xinhua.
China has been conducting its own drills, which could become more frequent and routine if the US continues to ramp up military provocations in the region, said state-run tabloid the Global Times, quoting analysts.
The article noted reports of PLA fighter jets being deployed to Woody Island in the contested Paracel chain -- known as the Xisha islands in China -- in the northern reaches of the South China Sea.
Those Chinese jets and fighter bombers engaged in two days of drills attacking maritime targets, the Global Times said.
Overnight Defense: US to pull 11,900 troops from Germany | Troop shuffle to cost 'several billion' dollars | Lawmakers pan drawdown plan | Trump says he hasn't discussed alleged bounties with Putin
Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.THE TOPLINE: The Pentagon has put some meat on the bones of President Trump's plan to pull thousands of troops from Germany.Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced Wednesday morning that roughly 11,900 U.S. troops will be leaving Germany, dropping the number of troops there from about 36,000 to 24,000.
Because of US actions like the dual-carrier exercises, "China is forced to take countermeasures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity," the Global Times said.
Despite the displays of military might, both Esper and Chinese officials said they do not want to see military conflict in the region.
A US visit to Beijing?
Esper said Tuesday he hopes to visit Beijing before year's end.
"We are committed to a constructive and results-oriented relationship with China and within our defense relationship to open lines of communication and risk reduction," he said.
"China is committed to developing a China-US relationship featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation," Xinhua cited Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang as saying Monday.
But the Global Times, citing Chinese analysts, urged caution in viewing Esper's hopes to visit Beijing.
"China needs time to find out if such a stance represents genuine goodwill or is just a 'smoke bomb'" that obscures Washington's true intentions, the Global Times said.
On Tuesday, the US government abruptly ordered China to "cease all operations and events" at its consulate in Houston, Texas, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, in what it called an "unprecedented escalation" in recent actions taken by Washington.
US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the consulate was directed to close "in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information." © Petty Officer 3rd Class Keenan Daniels/US NAVY US planes fly in formation above the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Groups as they conduct dual carrier operations in the South China Sea.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman retires, cites 'bullying' by Trump after impeachment testimony .
Vindman cited intimidation and bullying from the White House for his decision to retire. He will retire at the lower rank of lieutenant colonel instead of colonel.Vindman submitted his retirement request July 7, one day after his promotion to colonel had been approved by the Pentagon, according to an Army document. His request was approved for retirement effective Aug. 1.