The pot has been heated to boiling in the South China Sea and is getting closer and closer to overflowing. In fact, Philippines President Benigno Aquino has now compared China’s behavior there to that of Nazi Germany leading up to and during World War II.
Territory dispute over South China Sea
The reason for his remark is China’s continual grab for more and more territory in the South China Sea. A report in The Guardian states that Aquino warned world leaders that they can’t keep allowing Beijing to have its way in what now amounts to a sea and land grab similar to what Nazi Germany did in Europe around World War II.
He said at that time, Germany was “testing the waters” to see how Europe’s superpowers would respond to its annexation efforts before the war. Further, he said no one stopped Germany from annexing Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and he questioned whether the war would have happened if the rest of Europe had stood up for Czechoslovakia to block the annexation.
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Just appeasing China?
The Philippines president made his comments while speaking in Japan. This is the second time he has compared Beijing’s actions to Nazi Germany. He said if the superpower that is the U.S. decides that it is uninterested in what happens in the South China Sea, then other countries’ ambitions could become much greater.
He said last year that Europe allowed Germany to take Sudetenland as a way to appease Adolf Hitler, but all it did was whet his appetite for more land and more power. Chinese officials were angered by Aquino’s comments last year, calling him “lame,” “ignorant” and other derogatory words.
According to a Reuters blog post by Barry Lynn, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also drew comparisons between China’s actions in the South China Sea and European history. However, he went further back to the years leading up to World War I. He made his remarks last year, saying that at that time, the U.S. began challenging Beijing’s claims on the sea directly.
How much will the U.S. push back?
Earlier this week, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that China and other powers which are grabbing land in the South China Sea that they should respect international law. This could set the stage for a situation like Abe mentioned before World War I. Beijing, however, has returned the pushback, essentially telling Washington to keep its nose out of Asian affairs.
China has claimed almost all of the South China Sea, which is now an important shipping route which many believe holds rich supplies of gas and oil. However, rival powers in the region, which include the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, accuse Beijing of expansionism.
China builds military posts
China is building a sprawling military base on the Spratly Islands, sparking concerns about the placement and size of the base. According to a post by James Kraska on CNN, Beijing has built up more than 2,000 acres on rocks and reefs that are under the water.
Subi reef is one of the natural features China has built on, constructing an air strip that’s 3,000 meters long and able to take in the biggest military aircraft. The U.S. and the Philippines have been warned to stay away from the manmade island, although Beijing maintains that the construction project creates Chinese airspace there.
But this isn’t the first time Beijing has been attempting to exert control over land in the South China Sea. According to Lynn, China declared an “air defense” zone over part of the sea in 2013.
U.S. denies China’s claims
U.S. officials have denied China’s claims, saying they will do whatever they can in the region under international laws. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the U.S. remains concerned about what’s happening in the South China Sea because it deals with “freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, [and] freedom from coercion.”
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea states that only “naturally formed” islands that are above the water at high tide create a territorial sea, which China claims to have created by building on submerged reefs like the Subi. However, U.S. and Filipino military craft have been warned away by the Chinese military multiple times.
Clearly the situation in the South China Sea is tense, and any remarks or actions made by Washington or Beijing could end up being the tipping point toward war.