Beijing is warning the United States that the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Korean Peninsula is advancing North Korea’s threat that “the situation is inching closer to the brink of war.”
A joint U.S.-Korean military exercise is planned in the Yellow Sea between the Koreas and China in response to North Korea’s unprovoked attack on South Korea.
The worry is that the U.S. and China–and not just North and South Korea–could face off in an armed showdown.
A face-off on the Korean Peninsula, according to a recent New York Times analysis, “would require tens of thousands of troops, air power and the possibility of a resumption of the Korean War, a battle that American officials believe would not last long, but might end in the destruction of Seoul if the North unleashed artillery batteries near the border.”
If the war moved beyond the Koreas to draw the U.S. and China into direct conflict, the damage would be much harder to contain.
“Suddenly everything is on the table–Taiwan, the entire Pacific Rim, the whole amorphous ascendent China versus declining America thing,” said a Pentagon analyst. “The fog of war suddenly becomes further clouded by concerns or fears less rooted to immediate, territorial disputes. That’s how world wars start.”
So far, China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, has maintained that as long as the military exercises stayed outside of China’s “exclusive military zone”–generally considered to be 200 nautical miles away from China’s coast–that China would not “escalate” its protests.
But the Chinese have also made it clear that they are unhappy about the arrival of the USS George Washington to their waters–a striking projection of raw U.S. military power.
In the past they have harassed U.S. vessels in the area, and recently become more aggressive in claiming rights to islands claimed by neighbors such as Taiwan and Japan.
Pentagon observers say their attention is focused not on what the Chinese are saying but on what they are doing in cyberspace.
“We believe it’s the war in the Cloud and not the war in the skies or seas that will ultimately determine the shape of this battle,” the Pentagon analyst said.