As tensions continue to unfold in the South China Sea, the question many political observers are assessing is whether or not the United States is coming out on top. Certainly there has been a great deal of rhetoric emerging from the US on the subject in recent weeks and months. And this very week, the current vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, offered further confirmation of what he characterized as Chinese expansionism in this disputed territory.
South China Sea Tension
According to Biden, nations that discard diplomacy and use coercion and intimidation to settle disputes only invite instability. Although the vice president did not specifically name China in his comments, this particular statement could hardly have been any more thinly veiled.
While US foreign policy has been rightly condemned on many occasions with regard to a wide variety of different actions, the country nonetheless deserves credit for promoting a fair and legal resolution of the South China Sea dispute. But it seems that China has an unending commitment to claiming this territory, and considering the minuscule US stake in these waters then the ability of the United States to dictate terms to China must be seriously doubted.
When understanding the South China Sea situation, it is critical to consider the state of the Chinese nation. Although life on the face of it is extremely good in China, with a growing middle-class and an increasingly wealthy population, the country is significantly different culturally to what is expected from Western society.
Chinese socio-political difference
It is almost impossible to truly convey the differences between China and the United States, or for that matter any other Western nation. Of course, the United States government has been extensively criticized for a raft of political abuses, and much of this criticism has been entirely justified. But basic freedoms which are taken for granted in the United States, and across the Western world, simply do not exist in China.
This is an extremely authoritarian and contained society, not at all dissimilar to the Soviet Union. Where there is an obvious difference between the Stasi-era Russia and contemporary China is with regard to the economic policies of the nation, as the ostensibly communist government of China has enthusiastically embraced Western corporatism and capitalism.
But the Beijing administration of China is an extremely assertive and confident organization considering that it faces no significant opposition. If the existing Chinese government doesn’t exactly rule the country with an iron rod, it can be said that it imposes a strict constraint over the nation, and absolutely prescribes and proscribes the everyday activities of the population.
As such, in line with any such dictatorial and authoritarian nation, the government presents an image of itself to the people which is strong and ruthless, but always acting in the interest of the populace. Considering that the Beijing administration has consistently emphasized that the territorial claims of China are indisputable, it would now be politically untenable, and obviously embarrassing, for this powerful organization to ever back down over the South China Sea situation.
South China Sea stand-off
This could lead, of course, to a significant stand-off with the United States, if the Western superpower maintains its current stance on China’s activities in the region. Although the United States government is by no means as unchallenged as that of China, it has nonetheless been the defining political power of the 20th and early 21st century, and in that sense is equally unlikely to back down lightly.
This could naturally lead to an extremely delicate situation in the South China Sea, particularly as China is allied with Russia. Tensions between the United States and Russia have already been highlighted by ValueWalk, and the disagreements between China, Russia and the United States are part of a wider political and economic game of chess.
However, it is worth noting that the United States has significantly less riding on the South China Sea dispute. Although it would like to influence the behaviour of China in the region, and the Eastern superpower will unquestionably remain a focus of its foreign policy and intelligence in the coming years, the United States is not as invested in the outcome.
Japan offers allegiance to United States
Nonetheless, the fact that Japan has recently signalled its potential willingness to join in with United States forces in patrolling the region will only add more fuel to the fire in what is already a powder keg. Clearly the United States is not willing to take the situation in the South China Sea lying down, and clearly this allegiance with Japan to assist with the situation would seem to be a practical move by the US government.
The chief of the Joint Staff of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, has stated publicly that Japan sees the South China Sea to be extremely important to its security. He also emphasizes that there are no current plans to conduct surveillance in this area, but also indicated that the existing situation could see Japan consider such a policy in the foreseeable future.
Although the United States may be opposed to the action of China in this region, and the rise of the nation in general, there may be little ultimately that it can do about it. China is a massive holder of United States treasuries and debts, and ultimately a symbiotic and respectful relationship between the two countries would be beneficial to both.
China’s new bullish and aggressive tendencies in the South China Sea are indicative of a nation which is ready to claim its place on the world stage. The International Monetary Fund already reports that China is now the nation with the largest GDP in the world, and it seems inevitable that the Chinese currency will be included in a basket of reserve currencies in the foreseeable future, despite US opposition due to the dollar’s primacy.
It has already been stated by IMF head Christine Lagarde that this “exorbitant privilege” of the dollar will have to end at some point on the horizon. And when we look back at history it could be that the manoeuvres in the South China Sea can be pinpointed as the beginning of this process. A new multi-polar world order is looming into view.