The People’s Republic of China has adopted a somewhat sanctimonious position regarding the militarization of the South China Sea. It is perfectly acceptable for Beijing to transform the sea into a veritable lake for Chinese military forces, and to construct islands for the sole purpose of using them to project military power. Yet when other regional powers, or the United States wishes to sail warships, or fly combat aircraft over the SCS, it is nothing short of a provocation aimed directly at China. There have been a number of instances in the past few years when US Navy ships have conducted freedom of navigation exercises in the area, or US aircraft fly in close proximity to Chinese military bases there. Each one has prompted a sharp diplomatic response from Beijing.
This week the US military conducted flights in the vicinity of the South China Sea. B-52s from Andersen AFB in Guam transited the airspace as part of regularly scheduled exercises, according to the Pentagon. With the US and China embroiled in a tit-for-tat trade war, and tensions between the two nations heightening, the flight is likely to be seen by Beijing as a response to its decision not to allow the USS Wasp to dock in Hong Kong. That decision was made in response to the US placing punitive sanctions against the Chinese ministry’s Equipment Development Department (EDD) for China’s purchase of Russian fighter planes, and SAM (surface-to-air missile) systems.
China has complained about the sanctions, and considers the US action an attempt to undermine its defense capabilities. China is likely viewing the situation in the wrong context. Russia is the real target of the sanctions. They’re aimed at punishing Moscow for a host of activities aimed against US interests ranging its military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, to the attempts at interfering with the 2016 US presidential election.