Defense & Security

As if things could not get any worse in the South China Sea, China's placement and testing of anti-ship missiles in the South China Sea all but confirms Asia's worst fears: America's goal to ensure that China's rise is peaceful and that Beijing would take its place among nations of the Asia-Pacific and larger Indo-Pacific as a "responsible stakeholder" is dead and buried. And to make matters worse: Beijing does not seem to care about the tension it's creating throughout the region with every runway or missile it places on its fake islands.

During March, the U.S. Air Force deployed three of its twenty B-2 stealth bombers to the Asia-Pacific region for training. But should the United States consider permanently basing stealth bombers in the region? In the case of the B-2, logistically it would probably not make any sense to permanently base the aircraft overseas with only twenty aircraft in the total fleet. However, the Pentagon hopes to buy between eighty and 100 new Northrop Grumman B-21 Long Range Strike-Bombers (LRS-B) in the 2020s. As China's power continues to grow, there is a case to made for basing some number of those aircraft in the region.

Sungtae "Jacky" Park is research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. In February, the United States and South Korea decided to begin official discussions on deploying the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean Peninsula. In response, Chinese Ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong said that deployment of the system could destroy the Beijing-Seoul relationship "in an instant." The floor leader of South Korea's ruling Saenuri party, Won Yoo-cheol, calling Qiu's remarks "rude," said that they "disregarded the sovereignty and the security of the Republic of Korea." While some analysts see China's blunt position on this issue as a way to drive a wedge in the U.S.-Korea alliance, Beijing's motivations are in fact defensive. China's leadership is concerned about THAAD at the strategic level and sees the system as part of a broader U.S. strategy to contain China.

Later this year, The Hague is expected to render its decision in a dispute over China's land reclamation efforts in the South China Sea. Most observers expect the court to rule against Beijing. Few expect Beijing to take such a verdict lightly. The case, brought by the Philippines in 2013, argues that China's Spratly Island activities violate the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Specifically, it maintains that Beijing has been building in and extracting resources from the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, making spurious claims to water and airspace, and that China's "historical" claims to waters within the nine-dash line are invalid.

Greater operational transparency in the South China Sea has become a strategic imperative, and the United States needs to treat it as such by investing greater resources and political capital toward increasing the shared maritime awareness of Southeast Asian states. It simply will not happen without U.S. leadership. The opaque, low-information nature of the South China Sea creates a permissive environment for many sources of conflict. When national governments lack real-time awareness of who is doing what and where in the maritime domain, opportunistic actors like China have the ability to exploit it—through contentious land reclamation, illegal fishing and the bullying of commercial ships from other nations. But even among states that aren't tempted to exploit information asymmetries, a lack of situational awareness increases the prospect of misunderstandings, miscalculations and accidents among nations with overlapping Exclusive Economic Zones.

U.S. President Barack Obama will host China's President Xi Jinping for a special bilateral meeting on March 31. The encounter will be special because it is the only scheduled bilateral meeting of heads of state during the upcoming U.S.-hosted Nuclear Security Summit of many nations, including U.S. allies. This signifies at once the general and increasing importance of relations between Washington and Beijing, but also the specific need to address rising tensions between the two nations. The prime focus will be on the South China Sea, although other issues should be touched on.

China's estrangement from North Korea continues to fester and deepen. Following protracted negotiations in the aftermath of Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test and subsequent satellite launch, the U.N. Security Council has imposed far more severe restrictions on North Korean trade, finance, and maritime activities. The resolution—which passed on March 2 and for which China was a key drafter—portends a much edgier and uncertain relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Late last Wednesday, the Department of Justice announced that Su Bin, a Chinese national living in Canada, had plead guilty to "participating in a years-long conspiracy to hack into the computer networks of major U.S. defense contractors, steal sensitive military and export-controlled data and send the stolen data to China." Over several years, under Su's direction, two hackers stole some 630,000 files from Boeing related to the C-17 military transport aircraft as well as data from the F-35 and F-22 fighter jets. The information included detailed drawings; measurements of the wings, fuselage, and other parts; outlines of the pipeline and electric wiring systems; and flight test data. Su's conspirators remain unidentified and at large. The 2014 indictment refers to the co-conspirators as "affiliated with multiple organizations and entities." The plea announcement refers to them as "two persons in China" and says nothing more about them. But in documents submitted as part of Su's extradition hearing, the U.S. government identified them as People's Liberation Army (PLA) hackers. The documents included intercepted emails with digital images attached that showed military IDs with name, rank, military unit, and date of birth.

I was very skeptical about last September's US-China "agreement" in which China pledged that it would not "conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information, with the intent of providing competitive advantages to companies or commercial sectors." President Obama seemed skeptical too. During the press conference with China's President Xi that announced the cyber agreement, Obama said: "What I've said to President Xi and what I say to the American people is the question now is, are words followed by actions. And we will be watching carefully to make an assessment as to whether progress has been made in this area."

While the People's liberation Army continues to build anti-access/area denial capabilities to deter or delay a U.S. military response to a potential conflict with China, Beijing also appears to be pursuing other options—including nonmilitary options prior to a conflict—likely intended to erode the United States' strategic position, freedom of action, and operational space in the Asia Pacific. The nonmilitary options being pursued include engagement, coercion, and alliance splitting focused on U.S. allies and partners in the Asia Pacific region. Although Beijing's attempts to limit U.S. force projection capabilities in Asia through these efforts have produced mixed results, there is little indication Beijing will abandon its efforts to mitigate the U.S. military presence in the region. - See more at: