On Wednesday, the US Army announced that it plans to stockpile munitions and military supplies in Vietnam, Cambodia, and several other undisclosed nations including, experts believe, the Philippines, as the US adopts an increasingly aggressive military posture toward China.
US officials state that the munitions caches, placed within areas China considers to be within its "sphere of influence," are necessary to respond to regional "threats" by Russia and North Korea, and allow for more rapid deployment.
Army Material Command Chief Gen. Dennis Via emphasized that, in addition to munitions, the sites will contain Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR) supplies. The decision to place an American Army cache within Vietnam, the site of a bloody and largely unnecessary US war that ended in 1975, is a startling turn of events that has left Beijing incensed.
The move comes in response to what the US has alleged are repeated steps by China to militarize the region in what is seen as a push to dominate the South China Sea.
Former CIA chief General Michael Hayden expressed the need to expand US influence in the South China Sea, in an effort to contain Chinese expansion. Hayden suggested that to mishandle the rise of China "would be catastrophic."
The Center for Strategic and International Studies echoed Hayden’s concerns, observing that the South China Sea would become a "Chinese lake," by 2030, especially following Beijing’s recent placement of surface-to-air missiles on a manufactured island within the disputed territory. China maintains that it has every right to build within what it considers to be its own territory, and that the islands will be used primarily for humanitarian purposes.
Not everybody sees the wisdom of President Obama’s move. Washington Post opinion writer David Ignatius on Wednesday published the headline, "The US is heading toward a dangerous showdown with China," in which he cites former assistant secretary of state for Asia Kurt Campbell expressing concern that the Obama administration’s posturing could trigger World War III.
Campbell was quoted as saying, "This isn’t Pearl Harbor, but if people on all sides aren’t careful, it could be ‘The Guns of August,’" referring to Barbara Tuchman’s seminal book detailing the chain of events that led to World War I. He accuses President Obama of once again engaging in brinksmanship, suggesting that efforts to force China to exercise restraint in the region are turning into "another red line moment."
It is not known whether China will interpret US actions as an effort to seize new territories and "encircle" the country, in what is increasingly looking like an old-fashioned Washington-style Cold War mindset. Some believe that Beijing will instead interpret the US moves as a nudge toward displaying more restraint in their own territorial ambitions. The future of humanity may depend on that calculation.