The British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman observed on Wednesday that a future naval transit by U.S. allies within 12 miles of artificial Chinese islands and reefs would "become more feasible."
At a Hoover Institution event, I asked Tom Tugendhat why a recent Royal Navy deployment to the South China Sea had avoided such a 12-mile transit. The question is relevant because communist China is using those islands to exert imperial claims over the near entirety of the South China Sea. Those waters account for approximately 25% of all global trade flows and are rich in energy reserves. Allied 12-mile transits of the islands would consolidate similar U.S. actions, and match a recent 12-mile British transit off Russian-occupied Crimea.
Tugendhat suggested that the multinational nature of the recent HMS Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier deployment precluded a transit this time around. But, the influential parliamentarian observed, China's conduct meant future transits would "become more feasible." He noted that China's "wolf warrior" diplomacy was fueling increased allied collaboration against Chinese aggression.
Wolf warrior diplomacy centers on China's aggressive diplomatic confrontation against critics of Xi Jinping's regime. Orchestrated by Xi's foreign policy chief, Yang Jiechi, and led by foreign policy spokesman Zhao Lijian, the strategy involves giving no diplomatic quarter.
Tugendhat noted, however, that "wolf warrior diplomacy has been one of our greatest assets in recent years. The total failure of the Chinese diplomatic service to understand that beating up the Swedes is not going to get them to back down is really quite extraordinary." Tugendhat continued, "It just looks bad when WWF wrestlers kick puppies. Right? It's just not a look that makes anybody feel good. To see China picking on Lithuania or Sweden, which are quite clearly innocent countries, which stand up for the rule of law ... it kind of makes the point [that wolf warrior diplomacy is self-defeating] very clearly." He concluded, "I think that the cooperation between allies is made easier as [Beijing pursues these actions]."
Tugendhat is referring to aggressive Chinese diplomatic, economic, and verbal attacks on Australia, Lithuania, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Beijing has launched this onslaught in response to policies those nations have pursued. Its intent is to punish those who oppose its interests and, the hope in Beijing goes, deter others from doing the same. The strategic objective is to make the international community docile in the face of China's push for global hegemony.
But the parliamentarian's point is well made. No one likes a bully. Especially when the bully is attacking basic principles of free speech and human rights.
Put simply, communist China is increasingly its own worst enemy. Measured against Beijing's internal challenges, its foreign aggression isn't an obvious recipe for stability and success.