China’s New Missiles in the Spratlys May be a Turning PointJune 14, 2018
In April, Chinese President Xi Jinping oversaw the PLA Navy’s largest-ever display of warships, submarines, and aircraft in a massive naval review in the South China Sea. Last month, U.S. intelligence sources revealed that around the same time as that show of overt might, China quietly deployed advanced anti-ship cruise missiles and anti-air missiles to bases on three disputed features in the Spratly Islands. In contrast to China’s earlier incremental moves in the South China Sea, this deployment motivated the United States and an expanding coalition of partners to impose new consequences on China and commit to a greater military presence in the region.
China’s South China Sea strategy has mixed its island construction as a fait accompli with a gradual ratcheting up of its military presence and activities, carefully calibrating its efforts to ensure they did not provoke international responses that could spiral into crisis or conflict. The new head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command recently testified that as a result, China can now control the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.