I noted that China's decision to empower their armed civilian ships to stop ships in the South China Sea is something big. Southeast Asian states agree:
New rules that take effect on January 1 will allow police in the southern Chinese province of Hainan to board and seize control of foreign ships which "illegally enter" Chinese waters, the official China Daily said on Thursday.
Surin Pitsuwan, secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the Chinese plan was a "very serious turn of events".
It will cause a "major incident," Surin said.
The problem is that China considers their exclusive economic zone--which they say is virtually the entire South China Sea (the "nine-dashed line" as it first appeared on their maps)--to be off limits to military and intelligence ships and planes without Chinese permission. We say freedom of navigation principles include such vessels.
In 2001, China intercepted one of our EP-3 intelligence aircraft, causing an incident.
We've had other attempts to limit our freedom of navigation and have defended our interpretation of international law. Libya under Khaddafi is one of the more confrontational examples, where we periodically crossed his "line of death" at the Gulf of Sidra, resulting in some clashes.
China is trying to soften the move by limiting the decision to police ships rather than their navy, but the PLA will follow if don't stop this now.
Of course, with the impact of our "pivot" to Asia apparently wearing off, will we have the support of states in Asia (tip to Instapundit) to oppose the Chinese?
President Barack Obama attended the [Phnom Penh] summit to sell a US-based Trans-Pacific Partnership excluding China. He didn't. The American led-partnership became a party to which no-one came.
Instead, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, will form a club and leave out the United States.
Well. That's not the most stunning display of smart diplomacy that restores our reputation abroad that I've read about this week.
Perhaps we'll be reflagging ships of other nations in order to escort them through the Chinese police line in the sea. Or maybe it will be just us, at a new line of death.
China shows no desire to back off from their increasingly expansive claims. One day, American and Chinese ships or planes will shoot at each other because China made this decision. Let's make sure we win that first encounter.
UPDATE: The biggest spark could be off the Senkakus:
The LDP leader said he would not yield in a territorial dispute with China over a group of islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Daioyu in China.
He said he would increase the Japanese Coast Guard budget to ensure that China does not create a situation where it can say that it effectively controls the islands.
The LDP is likely to win the snap election in a couple weeks. He also said that repairing commercial ties with China is a priority. What will China decide?
If Japan won't yield, they should take care to win the first exchange of gunfire.