The South China Sea is, to put it bluntly, a tinderbox that seems set to go up rather spectacularly one of these days.
The latest incident to occur in that region involved China provoking Indonesia unnecessarily:
JAKARTA, Indonesia — China’s Coast Guard rammed one of the country’s fishing boats to pry it free from the Indonesian authorities who had seized it over the weekend, angering the Indonesian government and heightening yet another diplomatic dispute over the South China Sea.
The boat was stopped for fishing illegally in Indonesia’s waters and was being towed to port when the Chinese took it back, leaving its crew in the hands of Indonesia. Jakarta reacted with uncharacteristic fury, summoning the Chinese ambassador to a meeting on Monday.
The high-seas confrontation also indicated that Indonesia might be toughening its stance toward China in the region.
Indonesia’s strong reaction to the latest confrontation, in particular because it may have occurred within its territorial waters, may have been a tipping point in how it deals with Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea, said Ian J. Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, where he researches South China Sea disputes.
“I think we can say that it is far more serious than the 2013 incident, and I think the Indonesians will be apoplectic,” he said. “Indonesia has tended to downplay them, but they couldn’t this time, and it demonstrates how frustrated that people are getting with China.”
This is just one in a long string in a series of incidents that has been going in the region for some time. China is in an expansionist phase and has been for some time, eager to prove itself a Great Power and distract the populace from its economic troubles at home (to get an idea of what these troubles are, just search Zero Hedge for articles about China, of which there are a plethora). China has essentially laid claim to everything within the circled area on the featured map, which most of its neighbors naturally object to. They are presently embroiled in various disputes with Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia. Additionally, they are involved in separate disputes with Japan over the Senkaku Islands and China has also increasingly been harassing Indonesia, as noted in the article above.
This has led to increasing defense cooperation between Japan and the Philippines:
Philippine president Benigno Aquino III confirmed Wednesday that his country would lease five aircraft from Japan to help the Southeast Asian state’s navy safeguard its claims in the disputed South China Sea as the two sides celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties.
Japan has been a strategic partner of the Philippines since 2011, and the two countries have boosted the defense side of their relationship significantly over the past few years amid growing concerns about China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea and the South China Sea (“Japan, Philippines Boost Defense Ties”).
Speaking at an air base south of Manila on Wednesday, Aquino announced that the deal would indeed be going forward.
“We are also leasing from Japan five TC-90 training aircraft to assist our navy in patrolling our territories, particularly in the West Philippine Sea,” he said according to Reuters, using the Philippine term for the South China Sea.
The US has been strategically pivoting to Asia for some time now. In another post, I plan on talking about the relatively quiet expansion of our base in Guam. Additionally, the US is also now sending aircraft to the region:
Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that the United States is considering stationing B-1 and B-52 bombers in Australia in the face of rising tensions in the South China Sea.
China’s expansion to both natural and man-made islands in those waters, including its decision to build air strips and install surface-to-air missile batteries, has prompted Washington to look at a number of options, both diplomatic and military.
The US-Australia collaboration is representative of America’s continued interest in maintaining stability in the region by counterbalancing China’s military buildup, say analysts.
“It is part of an overall rebalancing of military forces to the region,” says Dr. Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute, in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.
I don’t like the looks of what’s been going on in the South China Sea, and I haven’t for some time. I think there is a very high risk that if China ends up fighting one of neighbors in an effort to demonstrate its strength or military muscle, the US may get dragged in given our significant defense commitments in the region. While Obama seems unlikely to act against China no matter what China does, we don’t know what a new Republican president might do, especially if the president has hawkish tendencies.
To some extent, our problems with Islam are not really military so much as cultural (meaning, a stubborn cultural refusal to solve our problems with Islam). This isn’t the case with China, a rising and dangerous competitor which seeks to become the sole Great Power in Asia.