WASHINGTON TIMES — As Washington and Beijing spar in a dangerous game of one-upmanship to determine who will control the strategically critical waterways of the South China Sea, some defense observers and regional analysts worry that the U.S. effort will prove an exercise in futility in the long term against the full weight of China’s growing military and economic prowess.
China’s strategy of slowly but methodically building up military installations in the Spratly Islands, the Scarborough Shoal, the Fiery Cross Reef and other strategic points within the sea, coupled with Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims, has elevated tensions in Washington and unsettled U.S. allies in the region.
The White House and Pentagon have taken solace in the fact that China’s military ambitions have been tempered by its commercial interests, according to a Defense Department review of the country’s strategic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China still seeks to avoid direct and explicit conflict with the United States,” Pentagon analysts concluded in a report issued in April. “China’s leaders understand that instability or conflict would jeopardize the peaceful external environment that has enabled China’s economic development.”
But some warn that Pentagon strategists are making a serious miscalculation of China’s military goals and capabilities, as well as of American preparedness to curb those ambitions, by relying on the belief that the country’s economic needs will prove a durable bulwark against military action in Asia.
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