Greg Sheridan, The Australian
6 November 2015
If you think things are a bit willing in the South China Sea now, after the US sailed the USS Lassen within 12 nautical miles of Beijing’s artificially created establishment on Subi Reef, wait until China moves nuclear weapons into the region, later this year or early next year.
First of all, though, let’s not panic. Beijing is certainly a rational actor and has generally avoided giant blunders. Just lately it has undertaken a number of reassuring moves and gestures.
It sent Premier Li Keqiang to participate in a three-way summit with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Seoul. It was not necessary for Abe to climb down from any of Japan’s recent strategic positions for this summit to proceed successfully.
A summit involving Li is less significant than one involving China’s President Xi Jinping. Nonetheless, good vibes come from this meeting.
Second, and perhaps much more significantly, the USS Lassen was shadowed by a Chinese vessel as it sailed within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef. But the Chinese vessel observed all the proper protocols for such a situation.
This sort of behaviour has not always been forthcoming from Chinese vessels and planes during the past few years. Senior Americans had become very worried about the way some Chinese military assets had behaved like cowboys in the Pacific, buzzing their American counterparts in the air or sailing so close that at times they barely avoided collision.
Calm behaviour in difficult circumstances has a lot to recommend it.
Third, Beijing’s reaction to the US freedom of navigation exercise was relatively modest. There were strident statements from some Chinese military leaders, but these were balanced by more calm and reassuring talk from China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi. It is very difficult to decipher precisely such richly nuanced and intentionally contradictory messages from Beijing, but overall the reaction was less strident than might have been expected.
And finally, Xi has decided to conduct an informal summit with Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore today.