South China Sea: The Center of World Conflict

September 1st, 2011
in econ_news

china-warship Econintersect:  On August 15, 2011 Robert D. Kaplan published an article entitled “The South China Sea is the Future of Conflict.”  He explains how the body of water sits in the middle of the world’s largest populations and is a natural battleground when disagreements arise.  The land boundaries between the major countries in eastern Asia are much less accessible.  On August 31 the first confrontation between an Indian navy vessel and a Chinese ship was reported by the Financial Times to have taken place.  Where?  In the South China Sea.

Follow up:

The confrontation took place in July in waters just outside of Vietnamese maritime jurisdiction. From the FT report:

The unidentified Chinese warship demanded that India’s INS Airavat, an amphibious assault vessel, identify itself and explain its presence in international waters shortly after it completed a scheduled port call in Vietnam, five people familiar with the incident told the Financial Times.

This latest example of China’s naval assertiveness has irked defence officials in India and Vietnam. China claims the South China Sea in its entirety, rejecting partial claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan over the resource-rich region.

GEI News has previously reported (in June) on other incidents this year.  Chinese boats took actions to interfere with Vietnamese navy operations and oil exploration activities in the South China Sea.  The actions took place in waters that are actually much closer to Vietnam than to China.

The South China Sea has historically been a battleground for the area, including the domination of the region by European powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  From Kaplan’s article:

Europe is a landscape; East Asia a seascape. Therein lies a crucial difference between the 20th and 21st centuries. The most contested areas of the globe in the last century lay on dry land in Europe, particularly in the flat expanse that rendered the eastern and western borders of Germany artificial and exposed to the inexorable march of armies. But over the span of the decades, the demographic and economic axis of the Earth has shifted measurably to the opposite end of Eurasia, where the spaces between major population centers are overwhelmingly maritime.

China, which, especially now that its land borders are more secure than at any time since the height of the Qing dynasty at the end of the 18th century, is engaged in an undeniable naval expansion. It is through sea power that China will psychologically erase two centuries of foreign transgressions on its territory -- forcing every country around it to react.

Kaplan says that the conflicts in the Western Pacific will not necessarily involve combat.  Rather there may be just a series of incidents where naval vessels engage in confrontations that fall short of an actual “shooting” engagement.  Not surprisingly, much of future incidents in the South China Sea will depend on how extensive future oil reserves discoveries there turn out to be.

The following map shows how China's claims are in conflict with UN designations.


Editor’s note: Robert D. Kaplan is senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, national correspondent for the Atlantic, and a member of the U.S. Defense Department's Defense Policy Board. He is the author of Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.  (From Foreign Policy.)

Sources:  Foreign Policy, Financial Times and GEI News

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