Having officiated peace talks with the signing of the historical Abraham Accord, US President Donald Trump is leaving no stone unturned to woo his critics before the November’s Presidential Elections.
However, in a bid to gain more momentum before a face-off with Joe Biden, the Trump administration is planning to shake things up in the South China Sea by preparing to deploy the lethal MQ-9 Reaper drone in the region, a move that has infuriated China.
Earlier, military experts in Beijing had stated that in view of the forthcoming US elections where Donald Trump appears to be trailing, it’s probable that Trump and his cronies would take the fatal step and provoke an armed conflict with China in the South China Sea before November this year.
The hunter-killer MQ-9 Reapers, which have so far been used to battle insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa, are now being reprogrammed for maritime operations, according to US military officials.
The lethal drones, which have some high profile kills, are most famous for killing the Iranian top commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January this year.
The US State Department spokesperson, Morgan Ortagus, had on Sunday (September 27) issued a statement slamming Beijing’s pursuit of “reckless and provocative militarization” of the disputed Nansha or Spratly islands in the South China Sea region and said – “The United States will continue to stand with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in resisting China’s coercive efforts to establish dominion over the South China Sea.”
Speculations are rife that the drones will monitor developments in the region and even take out targets if a need arises. Lieutenant Colonel Brian Davis, Commander of the 29th Attack Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, said three Reaper drones have been supporting the Navy and Marine Corps during the Agile Reaper exercise which began on September 03 and concludes on Tuesday (September 29).
“Our primary focus has been on counterinsurgency. That’s no longer the limit of what we can do,” said Davis.
The drones have been doing close air support, search and rescue, maritime interdiction, strike coordination and reconnaissance and surveillance during the exercise to prepare for conflicts with near-peer adversaries like China and Russia.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of the MQ-9’s capability, we are transitioning to an ability to generate combat airpower anywhere to include the maritime domain and we are tactically quite good at it,” said Davis
The latest developments, however, have not gone down well in China, with Beijing-based daily newspaper under the auspices of Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Global Times, issuing a warning to the US.
“Whatever the link between these messages, we must warn the US side: Attacking China’s Nansha Islands or other Chinese targets using MQ-9 Reaper drones is an act of war. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will surely fight back, causing the US military to pay a heavy price,” said the Global Times in an editorial.
Earlier this year, the US had issued a statement rejecting China’s sovereignty and maritime rights over Nansha (Spratly) islands in the South China Sea. The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had denounced China’s claims on the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, saying Beijing had “no legal grounds to unilaterally impose its will on the region”.
It has been speculated long before that the Trump administration would take a step which might escalate into an armed conflict between the two regions before the elections.
“There was speculation that the Trump administration might try to boost their reelection campaign by creating a military crisis. But using drones to attack Chinese targets is a real war, a war crime that destroys peace. The Trump administration can’t expect China to coordinate with it. To China, that is an invasion and aggression of war. Our only option is to strike hard at the aggressors and teach them a lesson they will never forget.”
China will shoot down incoming US warplanes, no matter they are unmanned or manned. If those planes cause actual damage to Chinese islands and reefs, we will strike the platforms and bases from which those planes take off.
The Nansha islands have only a small number of defensive weapons. If they are attacked, those islands would henceforth need to be turned into a fully operational military base to counter any serious threat to them.” said Global Times.