War tension over South China Sea

CHINA’S aggressive building of man-made islands and the recent presence of hundreds of Chinese fishing vessels and/or paramilitary ships over the South China Sea could provide a flashpoint for a big war.

According to the 2020 “Powerindix of the Global Firepower Ranking,” militarily, the top nations in the world (in order) are the United States of America, Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom. Will they get involved in the maritime conflict over the most traveled-over body of water in the world today—the South China Sea?

Lately, some 240 Chinese fishing and/or militia vessels have been swarming the Philippine-claimed Juan Felipe Reef and the West Philippine Sea, fishing everything they can—estimated at some 240,000 kilos of fish every day. The Philippines fired diplomatic protests and vowed more armed supervision of the area and will invoke the “mutual defense treaty” with the USA if armed conflict ensues.

As of press time, most of the Chinese vessels had already left but not before Filipino fighter jets flew over the disputed water areas.

As if on cue, the USA also sent the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt while China did the same with her Liaoning (the USA has 11 aircraft carriers to China’s 2), short of eyeballing each other.

Almost simultaneously, Washington had sent two dignitaries to “show support to Taiwan’s democracy” even as the largest fleet of Chinese warplanes invaded Taiwan’s air space to show displeasure over the USA-Taiwan friendly overture. Taiwan had, likewise, promised to defend herself to the death of its territories from any incursion by Beijing.

According to former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Philippine-China Sea imbroglio was hardly mentioned ever during the presidency of Donald J. Trump. However, a major pivot will be seen in the Biden administration as Hillary warns the Philippines from “becoming a subject of China” by allowing the latter’s undue influence and its soft stance against the maritime buildup of China.

A clear head-on collision between the USA and China is imminent.

Meanwhile, France declared that any clash in the Indo-Pacific region and the Taiwan Strait—involving China and the USA—would not make “Europe just watch and do nothing.” In fact, Germany (its first since 2002), the UK (warship Queen Elizabeth) and France will be sailing warships across the disputed sea in protest over the aggression of China this year.

On the other hand, South Korea and Japan (55,000 US troops) play hosts to America’s overseas combat troops and are clearly Washington’s allies. Lately, China sent a naval strike force near Okinawa, Japan (site of American base) to show its wariness over the Japan-US military connivance in the region.

Meantime, Japan who has been vocal about China’s human rights violations, trade malpractices, and incursions into the controversial seawaters cannot be too vehement in her protests, however. The main reason -clearly- is that China and Japan are each others’ biggest trade partners. Too much to lose economically for Japan.

India (over a billion population) has also had a recent history of shooting in border conflicts with China but is too far away from the South China Sea to really be interested in injecting itself into the conflict. But what about Russia, a strong military power?

Russia is not a “declared” ally of China but has a chummy relationship with the Philippine president and has a sweet history of “shared victory” in the Vietnam war against the Americans. It pursues harmonious economic partnerships in the Asean. Russia, we surmise, would initially rather concentrate its adrenaline in fighting off border conflicts involving the Ukraine and Crimea.

However, the very recent expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats, 32 companies and individuals from the USA for alleged meddling in the US (2020) presidential polls and hacking of agencies has agitated Russia’s head, Vladimir Putin. Despite the threat of a possible “financial squeeze” by Washington on Moscow, this recent animosity may yet drive Putin into the arms of China and side with them in the South China Sea conflict.

In the first place, Moscow had already approved of Beijing’s position in rejecting the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague with respect to the disputed seawater territories in favor of the Philippines.

Will these interlocking events above, unfortunately, drag the regional maritime issue into a worldwide global conflict?

History recalls that it all started in 1972- with the controversial first-ever visit of an American president (Richard Nixon) to China, armed with an attitude of “constructive engagement” with China as the latter tried to endeavor into a blend of the capitalist-socialist form of governance and economy.

Writer-philosopher John Horvat claims that in the process- the US had unwittingly created a Frankenstein in China which has become a fire-breathing dragon that transformed into the world’s second-biggest economy and a very consequential military power.

Today, China aims for a “Made in China 2025” global economic dominance eclipsing the USA, a virtual leader in artificial intelligence and quantum computing, and is gunning at becoming the biggest naval force in the world, investing $250 billion in its military budget last year.

Added to this is the physical aggression China has displayed over the South China Sea which promises to be one of the world’s richest fishing grounds and tremendous sources of mineral energy under the seas. The US and its allies have awakened to this grim reality staring at their faces today and seem to have gathered enough courage and realistic resolve to at least halt the Chinese aggression- at least leading to a standoff in this important part of the globe’s geopolitical map.

For how long will a standoff remain as it is- before other nations take more serious sides on either part of the Great Divide and escalate the conflict into such a magnitude that will make the Covid-19 crisis look like a kindergarten class?

One must not forget that North Korea, a nation with nuclear power led by a trigger-happy and somewhat delusional leader, has always been an ally of China for a long time.

Zoilo Dejaresco, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and book author. He is a Life and Media Member of Finex. His views here, however, are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex and the BusinessMirror. E-mail: dejarescobingo@yahoo.com.


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