- A one-time patrol might lead China to think poorly of US resolve
- Regular patrols to send clear message of US non-recognition of fake islands
- However, probability of escalation will increase
With the United States all but naming the exact time it will do so, analysts on the ongoing dispute in the West Philippine Sea agreed that the US plan to send warships to sail through China’s man-made islands in the region should be done on a regular basis.
“This cannot be a one-off. The US navy will have to conduct these kinds of patrols on a regular basis to reinforce their message,” Ian Storey of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies told Reuters.
Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies’ security expert Bonnie Glaser echoed Storey’s statement, saying the US patrols should be done regularly to strengthen its position of not recognizing any of China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.
“I know the US does not want that outcome,” she said. “Nobody wants to give the Chinese a new no-go zone and an effective territorial sea they are not entitled to.”
Last week, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the US government is definitely planning patrols to the area.
“I think we have been very clear, that we intend to do this,” he said.
Real Threat of Escalation
For their part, two analysts see the US plan as the precursor for a very dangerous standoff at sea.
Hong Kong’s Lingnan University’s Zhang Baohui said China is viewing the whole issue as one of power play rather than freedom of navigation and overflight—a theme frequently used by the US.
“It’s all about power, and that is what makes this so dangerous,” he said.
In the end, the US might even end up blinking first.
“There is a real risk of a confrontation between China and the US that the US might have to withdraw from,” said Singaore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies’ Sam Bateman.