Trouble Ahead

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Various reports yesterday (here’s the Financial Times)  noted that the U.S. and China ended discussions aimed at solving the problem of confrontation betweem Chinese ships and the U.S. Navy in what China’s is evidently aiming to make a 200 mile exclusive maritime zone off its coast. I say evidently as the talks clearly didin’t go well. As this graf indicates, the Chinese side is taking its usual extreme bargaining position:

“The way to resolve China-US maritime incidents is for the US to change its surveillance and survey operations policies against China, decrease and eventually stop such operations,” Xinhua, the official news agency, quoted the Ministry of National Defence as saying.

Actually, I am not sure how much this is a bargaining position and how much it really represents a conscious foreign policy decision by Beijing to carve out an exclusion zone into which other navies–and most obviously the U.S. Navy– may not enter. Policy making in China is a complex and often opaque business. And when it involves the military it becomes particularly tricky. As we’ve written in the past, the Chinese Admirals have been the ones making the most noise on this issue in the past. the question is, are they driving this policy and how far exactly are they willing to go? It seems highly unlikely Washington would cede on this. apart from anything else, every other country in the world would claim the same exclusion rights, which could be problematical, to put it mildly. A definite danger area in U.S.-China relations.