The decision by the United States to delayl military exercises in the Yellow Sea in order to placate “neighboring countries,” i.e., China, prior to the G-20 summit in the Republic of Korea (ROK) marks the latest in a series of ill-considered, costly concessions Washington has made toward China.
A high-level South Korean government official stated that a joint U.S.–South Korean naval drill scheduled for this month in the Yellow Sea was canceled in “consideration of geopolitical conditions ahead of an upcoming Seoul G-20 economic summit.” The exercise was to have included the USS George Washington carrier strike group and a joint large-scale landing exercise involving both countries’ marine corps.
Seoul also indicated that there would be no exercises off either Korean coast this year involving the U.S. aircraft carrier.
It is important to remember that the exercises in question were intended as a response to North Korea’s unprovoked aggression against South Korea—the deliberate sinking of a South Korean frigate in South Korean waters by North Korea and the subsequent failure of the United Nations to punish North Korea in any way because of China’s obstructionism. Had Beijing (and Moscow) cooperated with the U.S. in at least formally condemning Pyongyang’s aggression, these exercises might well not be necessary.
Instead, China has insisted that it cannot be sure of who sank the Cheonan and inappropriately compares the event to a natural disaster like an earthquake, as though it were an unavoidable act of God rather than the deliberate act of the North Korean leadership.
Moreover, despite Chinese protests over the sensitive nature of the location, these exercises are being held in international waters. Beijing is in no position to prevent these exercises—unless the U.S. chooses to invest them with such authority, which it appears to all the world to be doing.
Despite this, the Administration is apparently now indicating that the George Washington carrier battlegroup will not be visiting the Yellow Sea this calendar year—just as Beijing has demanded and despite Washington’s strenuous previous claims to the contrary.
From the perspective of relative power, the failure of the U.S. to stand by an ally—and by its own principles of freedom of navigation and open use of international waters—will obviously be interpreted in many quarters as indicative of American decline and China’s rise. Worse, taken in conjunction with the Administration’s clumsy handling of the termination of suspensions of the issuance of temporary export licenses related to C-130s for use in oil spill control and the visit of the head of NASA to China, it seems as though Washington is intent on making clear that it is China, not the U.S., that calls the shots in the region.
One can only wonder what further concessions the Administration is preparing to make to China and what other commitments the Administration thinks may be reaching their expiration dates.