Sparks fly as war game concludes between US, South Korea and Japan, with test of conflict between Seoul and Pyongyang’s nuclear missile forces
US has few good options if China seizes islands close to Taiwan, war game concludes
The Trump administration is likely to face few good options if China moves to take control of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, according to a US army war game.
The US east Asia military drill, which concluded earlier this month, concluded that the US military did not have the military capabilities to prevent Chinese control of the contested shoals.
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“If China were to seize control over all of the Spratlys, it would be a blow to US national security,” said Lieutenant General David Mann, commander of US army forces in the Pacific.
“However, China’s actions in asserting control over the Islands would also create ungoverned space over the South China Sea.”
The South China Sea is a strategic body of water through which about $5tn in global trade passes every year. Its strategic importance makes it particularly sensitive to US-China relations.
China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres (1,300 hectares) of land around the Spratlys, complete with airports, runways and ports, military and civilian facilities which Washington and allies say are designed to support and defend Chinese military objectives.
The drill, which the Pentagon called the first of its kind, was based on an operational plan devised by US Army Pacific commanding general, Raymond Thomas. It aims to improve joint operations, reaction and analytical capabilities in a mixed-domain scenario involving continental America and China.
However, the odds against China seizing control of the Spratlys are “medium”, Mann said, based on the available intelligence and professional knowledge of both sides, but the simulation warned that “with a limited number of options, the options themselves may be less certain.”
The US drills evaluated South Korea, Japan and US air, sea and land power in an adversary scenario, in which the conflict could also extend into North Korea.
China last week announced that it had completed a new military base on the Paracel Islands in the disputed Spratlys and intends to spend more than $90bn building military facilities on all seven of the islands.
Defence secretary James Mattis said in October that the US would act in response to “if and when China does take those out” but has not specified what action would be taken.