South China Sea Debate Could Lead To World War 3

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South China Sea Debate Could Lead To World War 3
MaoNo / Pixabay

A conflict, which has shaken the whole world, is still making headlines. And the reason is clear: the tiny islands of the South China Sea could lead to a world war.

It is all about the confrontation between China (and, apparently, also Russia now) from one side, and the US and its allies from the other side, over the vast South China Sea, a body of water larger than the Mediterranean.

These tiny islands are located at the very middle of one of the key routes of shipping traffic, the total amount of which amounts up to $5 trillion per year. Furthermore, this is a highly important fishing area, at the bottom of which rich oil deposits are likely to be found.

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For many decades, China, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have insisted that all or part of the islands belong to them. But recently, the conflict has hit the critical phase.

The area has been long recognized as sea-lanes under international law. However, since the islands have runways for military flights as well as huge potential for large-scale construction of military bases and airstrips, Beijing is not so eager to let them go.

There have been reports about China’s heavy weapons being deployed to the area, which worries not only the US, but also the Asian neighbors.

Asian neighbors are beefing up amid the growing war fears

Japan, one of US closest allies and partners, reinforced its naval force amid the growing war fears, while Taiwan makes a decision to secure nuclear weapons; South Korea has put its military units on alert and Philippines carried out a number of military drills in the area.

The US, for its part, is planning to deploy its warships and warplanes to the 12-mile zone around the new Chinese military base.

Furthermore, US naval aircraft have made a number of fly-through missions over the disputed islands in an attempt to prevent China from making claims of sovereignty. However, they fly away after Chinese planes attempt to intercept.

From the US actions, it is clear that the Obama administration is not going to hand over the control over South China Sea quite easily. However, do the Chinese care much?

The Chinese have enough running room to do whatever they want

Several senior officials from the People’s Liberation Army have recently visited the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and joined a series of discussions with leaders of Asian and Western countries.

At the event, it has become apparent that Chinese officials are feeling confident and have little respect for the Obama administration, which has been making accusations but doesn’t seem to have adopted a clear strategy yet.

“A member of the PLA asked me whether, in 18 months if Hillary Clinton is elected president, will she be much tougher on China than the current administration,” said Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “I said, ‘The premise of your question is that in the next 18 months you have enough running room to do whatever you want.’ He just laughed,” Bloomberg reports.

The Chinese are known for their inability to easily retreat from a conflict, which makes the South China Sea conflict even more dangerous and has a high chance for escalation.

With the 2016 election, the conflict may lead to a war

In his book ‘Roots of War’, Richard Barnet defines the US foreign policy as “permanent war” with a belief that Washington must remain “number one in the world.”

However, judging by the US rather soft actions against Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe, it can be concluded that the current US administration is unwilling to challenge any aggression and may be perceived as ‘weak’ by other countries, which is probably the case with China.

China saw that the US can be pushed, and it is unclear whether there will ever be a better chance to make claims over the disputed islands than there is now. However, the Obama administration is on its last legs and when the new President is elected in 2016, the current conflict may eventually lead to a war.

Especially given the fact that there are apparently two aggressors acting together in this conflict now.

Russia and China team up against the ‘US threat in the region’

It was reported yesterday that Russia and China are planning to carry out bilateral naval military exercises in the South China Sea, according to comments by Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov.

The exercises are set to include Moscow’s allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific region, though Antonov did not go into details as to what countries, apart from China, would participate in the exercises.

It is important to note that Russia has close relations with several Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam, which Russia provides its arms to. However, what is even more interesting is that China is involved in disputes over the islands and reefs with four Southeast Asian countries – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

The point of Antonov’s comments lies in the fact that China and Russia view the US as the number one destabilizing factor in the South China Sea.

US will not back down

With the apparent escalation of the conflict, the chances of shots being fired now stand at better than 50-50, says Bernard Cole, a retired Navy captain and China expert.

However, the military confrontation is likely to be between China and the Philippines or Vietnam, rather than between Beijing and Washington.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made clear statements in recent days that Washington would not back down.

“There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world,” Carter said at the Shangri-La defense conference in Singapore.

“After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.”

Updated on

Polina Tikhonova is a writer, journalist and a certified translator. Over the past 7 years, she has worked for a wide variety of top European, American, Russian, and Ukrainian media outlets. Polina holds a Master's Degree in English Philology from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the Saint Petersburg State University. Her articles and news reports have been published by many newspapers, magazines, journals, blogs and online media sources across the globe. Polina is fluent in English, German, Ukrainian and Russian.
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10 COMMENTS

  1. Bully? Territorial disputes is no child play.
    Evidence, proof, documentations are aplenty to prove any rightful claims.
    You have to read up if you are really serious.
    Thanks anyway.

  2. illegal territorial claims? Do some research, dude, before making comments. China opted to be a bully country by emerging suddenly and claim the rights of those territories. Those small countries fight for what is really is theirs because they have strong basis which China doesn’t have. China should stop its agrression over territorial claims.

  3. To CHINA: War is not the answer. No one wins in a war. Everyone loses in a war. But the one who starts it loses more (Remember Word War I and II). To the US: With great power comes great responsibility (Remember Afghanistan and Iraq). To the Philippines, Viietnam and other South China Sea claimants: Ask not what the US and other countries can do to for you, ask what you can do to stand for what is right in a peaceful way – for that is more powerful than any weapon on earth (Remember Gandhi)

  4. Maybe if the stupid idiots in the White House stopped being the self-righteous assholes as they are, and can put aside their pride for 1 year this world would actually have something besides war for once.

  5. The WAR is going to be between Russia and USA and China has the man power. A huge army and Russia has significant weapons that even none other that the great war monger USA can fathom. I am done looking at US as sensible (I am TEXAN so American myself) and all the problems they have caused will bite US in the ass. So go eat a huge cheeseburger and get fatter. Like fat cows ready for the …..

  6. The more urgent question is HOW TO PREVENT WW III

    The strategy is to identify the root causes and then dealt with them accordingly. That being the case
    (1) Expose an “outside force” that meddle not just in South China Sea,but also in Ukraine, North Korea and other hot spots of their own creation. Demand this “outside force” to be abide by international law, recognizing the legitimate
    rights of China in South China Sea, stop fabricating more lies, propaganda about China
    challenging the world order, expanding her territorial claims in South China Sea.
    (2) Reject illegal territorial claims of Philippines and Vietnam in South China Sea.

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