South China Sea Tensions Likely to Get Worse Before They Get Better


March 25, 2016

South China Sea Tensions Likely to Get Worse Before They Get Better

3 thoughts on “South China Sea Tensions Likely to Get Worse Before They Get Better

  1. I am not sure whether “when the USA comes out China will retreat”, but I think history has shown repeatedly that when the uneven hand of the US comes into play, the situation quickly becomes complicated and messy. The US knows it is number One today, and will not want to be pushed down to number Two. It chooses and discards its friends at will.

    A slight digression.

    “By late 1977 . . . it became possible for some brave souls, such as Robert Kaplan and Fareed Zakaria to question the value and outcome of the immediate post-Cold War effort to export democracy. In the early 1990s, however, when some of these essays were written, there was no space in the Western intellectual firmament for fundamental questions to be raised about the export of democracy . . . . I was put in the difficult position of being the sole dissenting voice to challenge the conventional wisdom of Western liberals in their moments of triumph . . . The paradox here was that Western liberal orthodoxy claimed that it celebrated dissenting voices. My personal experience suggested that such tolerance of dissent did not easily extend to challenges of the key intellectual assumptions of this liberal orthodoxy . . . . One of the key flaws of the campaign to export Western values at the end of the Cold War was the assumption that the good intentions of the West in doing so would lead to good results . . . The moral complexity of transporting values from one society or civilisation to another had been lost in the moral certitudes of Western intellectuals at the end of the Cold War.” [p 9-11: CAN ASIANS THINK? by Kishore Mahbubani: 1998]

    “One key point that Mr Lee would emphasise to American leaders was that China’s rise was unstoppable . . . it was in America’s interest to develop a constructive long-term policy of engaging with China. However, Mr Lee had earlier counselled Washington not to appease China. The essay by Kausikan recounts a remarkable episode in US-China relations. As Kausikan says:
    In 1981, at the International Conference on Kampuchea held at the UN, the US was poised to sell out Singapore and ASEAN’s interest in favour of China’s interest to see a return of the Khmer Rouge regime. The then assistant secretary of state in charge of China policy attempted to bully and browbeat our foreign ministers, saying that there would ‘blood on the floor’ if we did not relent.
    I was personally present when the US delegation tried to browbeat our then foreign minister, S Dhanabalan, into backing down from our opposition to China’s position. It was clear to me from that meeting that the American delegation was not used to having small states defy their will. Even though the Americans threatened to call Mr Lee, they never did.” [p 20-21: THE BIG IDEAS OF LEE KUAN YEW edited by Shashi Jayakumar and Rahul Sagar: this introduction by Kishore Mahbubani: 2015]

    Now, at the site:

    “On 4 January 1974, President Thieu announced that war had restarted in Vietnam . . . .Just a week later a Chinese spokesman renewed Beijing’s sovereignty claim over the Paracels but hardly anyone in Saigon noticed. And if Washington had any inkling of what was coming, it didn’t let on. Mao Zedong’s vision was to secure a strategic fastness off China’s southern coast and enable the hunt for oil around the Paracels and beyond. Beijing’s relations with North Vietnam were deteriorating fast and South Vietnam had lost American support. January 1974 was a moment when the Beijing leadership could act without fearing the consequences. For Kissinger and Nixon, the fate of South Vietnam’s island possessions was much less important than the improving relations with China. A tacit US-China alliance would be much more significant to the outcome of the Cold War than whatever would happen in Saigon.” [p 72-73:THE SOUTH CHINA SEA – THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN ASIA by Bill Hayton: Yale University Press 2014]

    “The Chinese leadership was concerned that, even as it was becoming more dependent upon the South China Sea, it was losing ground in the Spratlys. In June 1983, Malaysia had joined Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines by occupying reefs. The list of options for a navy seeking forward bases in the South China Sea was getting shorter. It was time for action and the moment was opportune.” [p 81: ibid]

    “Under UNCLOS there are no grounds at all for any state to claim ownership of a shoal or a bank that is under water at low tide: they are simply part of the seabed.” [p116: ibid]

    “In the interim, the South China Sea has become an armed camp, even as the scramble for reefs is most over. China has confiscated twelve geographical features. Taiwan one, the Vietnamese twenty-one, the Malaysians five, and the Philippines nine . . . . China has built concrete helipads and military structures on seven reefs an shoals. On Mischief Reef, which China occupied under the nose of the Philippine navy in 1990s. China has constructed a three-story building and five octagonal concrete structures, all for military use. On Johnson Reef, China put up a structure armed with high-powered machine guns. Taiwan occupies Itu Aba Island, on which it has constructed dozens of buildings for military use, protected by hundreds of troops and twenty coastal guns. Vietnam occupies twenty-one islands on which it has built runways, piers, barracks, storage tanks, and gun emplacements. Malaysia and the Philippines, as stated, have five and nine sites respectively, occupied by naval detachments.” [p12-13:ASIA’S CAULDRON – THE SOUTH CHINA SEA AND THE END OF A STABLE PACIFIC by Robert D Kaplan: Random House 2014

    Brace ourselves for the coming heat.

  2. South China Sea is a geopolitical concept for the United States. But for China it is a geographical reality. Do not expect China to backdown to cave to the US. The poorly equipped China had fought two wars against the advancely equipped US – the Korean War and the Vietnam War. We all know what the results were. China knows it cannot win a major war against the US, but they are confident to cause devastating damages or even win a limited war.

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