Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Encore! Encore!

I suspected that our recent "freedom of navigation" exercise near a Chinese island in the South China Sea was nothing more than "innocent passage" in a form of "provocation theater" that merely pretended to challenge China's claims to control the waters of the South China Sea. Bingo:

A vessel undertaking an innocent passage must refrain from all manner of routine military activities. It may not operate aircraft from its decks, conduct underwater surveys, or do anything else that might be construed as impeaching the coastal state’s security. Decatur evidently desisted from all of these activities—and thus comported itself as though it were executing an innocent passage through China’s rightful territorial waters.

What does acting as though China’s claims are legitimate prove? Not much. The voyage did nothing to dispute Beijing’s effort to fence off the Paracels within “baselines” sketched around the archipelago’s perimeter and proclaim sovereignty—physical control backed by force—over the waters within. To reply to that claim, Decatur should have made the transit while carrying out every activity Beijing purports to forbid—sending helicopters aloft, probing the depths with sonar, and on and on. What China proscribes, in other words, friends of freedom of the sea must do.

Fail to contest excesses and you consent to them by default.

Yeah. We don't challenge China's ownership of the island. That's up to locals to determine and we don't take a position on that question other than insisting that it not be determined by force.

But our Navy should challenge China's claim to control the South China sea by virtue of their actual--if not legal--control of islands by carrying out actual freedom of navigation operations rather than conducting innocent passage.

Otherwise we are just pretending to oppose China and are consenting to China's claims by default.

That's quite a pivot we've got there, eh? Will we raise the curtain in the next quarter for another run of Provocation Theater in the South China Sea?

(And I do not consider this being nitpicky.)