US, China ‘at greater risk of military incidents’ in South China Sea, Chinese think tank warns



There may be a greater risk of incidents between the United States and Chinese navies in the South China Sea because the US military has been given more decision-making authority, a Chinese think tank warned on Tuesday.

In a report, the think tank said the White House National Security Council had become less involved in US military activities in the disputed region, despite an increase in their frequency and intensity.

“The US military will continue intensifying military operations in the South China Sea, constantly exploring the grey zones between peace and conflict, and probing China’s bottom line, which will inevitably push the threshold of small-scale armed conflict and war,” according to the report released by Peking University’s South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative.

The US Navy has been conducting so-called freedom of navigation operations near Chinese-controlled islands and reefs since 2015, to challenge what Washington calls Beijing’s excessive claims in the waterway. Four such operations were carried out under former president Barack Obama and there have been 11 so far under President Donald Trump.

“During the Obama era, such operations had more strategic significance so there was management from the higher level,” said Hu Bo, co-author of the report and director of the Centre for Maritime Strategy Studies at Peking University.

He said the Trump administration had delegated authority to the Indo-Pacific Command (PACOM), which would “surely increase the risks and hazards” in the region.