Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2018
By Peter M. Solomon
At a September 2015, joint press conference at the White House, China’s President Xi Jinping stood beside U.S. President Barack Obama and said, “China does not intend to pursue militarization” with respect to “construction activities that China are undertaking” on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Since then, China has established several offensive capabilities in the region, including surface-to-air and anti-ship missile systems on three features in the Spratly Islands and the ability to deploy strategic bombers from the Paracel Islands. In comparison to the United States, which has been a consistent critic of China’s reclamation and militarization and has embarked on numerous freedom of maritime navigation exercises in the region, the European Union (EU) has historically been reserved in its comments regarding China’s activities in the South China Sea. Instead, the EU has limited itself to general comments about the importance of maintaining freedom of the seas and resolving disputes peacefully. While these statements are not without importance, the lack of a more critical, unified EU approach to China’s destabilizing activities has left missing a crucial voice. The tides could soon turn.