As the South China Sea situation continues to escalate, so the tensions between the East Asian nation and the United States also expand. The existing conflict in the region continues to intensify, as all of the major players with a stake in the South China Sea continue to make moves in order to emphasize their own particular dominance.

US-China Peace Tested By South China Sea Conflict

South China Sea flare-up

It is not only the United States and China that have claimed a particular interest in this region. Taiwan and Japan are also intrinsically tied up in the outcome of the current situation, even if the former realistically lacks the financial resources, military might and diplomatic influence to risk a direct confrontation with China.

Of course, China also claims sovereignty of Taiwan itself – refusing to even acknowledge the name of Taiwan as a country – and is therefore extremely unlikely to kowtow to any form of diplomatic pressure from the relatively small East Asian nation. But in truth the South China Sea situation is just the latest in a series of territorial conflicts involving China that indicate the extent to which the superpower is flexing its military, diplomatic and geopolitical muscle.

Unquestionably, China is now a major superpower. While we may still be living on a planet crafted in the image of an Anglo-American world order, the reality is that China has significant influence and power within it. The world’s most populous nation has already overtaken the United States as the largest producer of gross domestic product on the planet, at least according to the International Monetary Fund. And this is indicative of a growing financial and political prominence of this nation of over one-billion people in the contemporary economic system.

As China takes an increasingly hawkish position on geopolitical matters, and enters into important allegiances with the likes of Russia, so its position on the world stage is altered radically. While the United States has been the unchallenged superpower on the planet for many years, China is now beginning to develop economically and militarily in such a fashion that suggests it will seriously challenge US hegemony in the coming years.

China territorial disputes

Previous territorial disputes involving China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have underlined the extent to which China is now creating instability in the eEast Asian region in general. The resentment that has built up as a result of these manoeuvres could now have a serious influence over the South China Sea situation. China views the region as essential to its plans to expand its empire, but other nations are naturally not too enamored with this prospect.

And the current situation has naturally incited the interest of the United States. That US government is certainly not one to stand idly by when it believes that its interests are threatened, and an emboldened and increasingly powerful China is naturally inimical to American interests.

Whether one agrees with the interventionist foreign policy of the United States or not, the current stance of the US government towards China is pretty much inevitable when one considers the geopolitical context. Neither power should necessarily be viewed as good or bad, rather that the existing situation has been coming to a head for some time, and indeed was predicted some decades ago based on a basic demographics and economic data.

US-China relationship

But the question with regard to the South China Sea is whether the United States should saber rattle in China’s direction, or whether a less robust and more diplomatic approach would be advisable. Although there are tensions between the United States and the China over the South China Sea region, and the seemingly strong bond between China and Russia is hardly a positive thing for US-China relations, the fact remains that the diplomatic relationship between the two nations is not too sour. The US and China have managed to recently collaborate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and although there is definitely potential for this to go awry in the future, it does indicate that the two nations are capable of behaving harmoniously.

There are also intrinsic links between the United States and China economically. Trade between the two nations is almost inevitable, considering that they are the largest economies on the planet by some distance. And major corporations such as Apple choose to locate their production facilities in China, and thus there is now an almost symbiotic relationship between the United States and China in this regard.

This symbiosis also carries into the debt-based relationship between the two nations. China is the largest holder of US debt on the planet, and this further incentivizes the two nations to reach diplomatic solutions in any areas of conflict.

And there is also a history of cooperation between the United States and China at military level. This is perhaps not something that the average person would associate with the United States, as it is generally presumed that the most powerful nation on the planet has something of a frosty military relationship with China.

But despite this perception, China has participated in the world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC 2014, which is hosted biannually by the U.S. Pacific Command. RIMPAC 2014 consisted of a series of drills that enabled the world’s most populous nation to learn directly from what is undoubtedly its greatest military power. With the Chinese military able to learn a huge amount about US tactics, techniques and procedures, it seems that the United States government is not hellbent on keeping its military capabilities secret from this new theaterwide threat to its dominance.

South China Sea rhetoric

However, despite the apparent cooperation between China and the United States, the US government has still engaged in confrontation in the South China Sea, both rhetorically and physically. It may seem illogical for the US to be training Chinese forces in the American way of waging war, while at the same time the two nations continue to drift alarmingly closer to armed confrontation. Such are the vagaries of foreign policy in this often upside-down world.

In reality, a closer collaboration between the United States and China would be beneficial to both nations, and the US should desist from aggressive public rhetoric against the East Asian nation. Any aggressive military action against China would be counter-productive and short-sighted, and ultimately achieve nothing in a world in which the two nations will remain intrinsically linked for the foreseeable future.