Will World War III Start Here?

Last year, I placed an article in Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter that talked about the South China Sea.  While it would be too much of a stretch to say World War III will start there, it is beyond argument that the tensions in the South China Sea (SCS) have been a source of extreme friction that has escalated into conflict between China and her smaller neighbors.  Five years ago, few people paid attention to the SCS.  Now they are – and for good reason.

Stretching from the mouth of the Pearl River in China to the north, to the tip of Indonesia’s Natuna Island in the south, the South China Sea comprises a stretch of roughly 3,500,000 square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean that encompasses an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan, spanning west of the Philippines, north of Indonesia, and east of Vietnam. Put in perspective, the South China Sea would encompass the entire land area of India – and then some. Over $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea every year. Two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, 60 per cent of Taiwan and Japan’s energy and 80 per cent of China’s crude imports all go through the South China Sea.  Indeed, as much as 50 percent of global oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea, which sees three times more tanker traffic than the Suez Canal and over five times that of the Panama Canal, making the waters one of the world’s busiest international sea lanes. More than half of the world’s top ten shipping ports are also located in and around the South China Sea. As intra-ASEAN trade has markedly increased—from 29 percent of total ASEAN trade in 1980 to 41 percent in 2009—maintaining freedom of navigation has become of paramount importance for the region.

In the main, the nations of the Indo-Pacific region have managed to increase their economic output and improve the lives of their people through peaceful means. No land army in the region has invaded its neighbor in recent times and disagreements are usually settled peacefully. The one notable exception to this is where land and sea meet, in those areas where numerous islands dot the seascape and trade passes and where mineral and fishing rights are contested. In an increasing number of cases there is contention and even conflict. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the area of the South China Sea. However, with many nations asserting opposing rights in this sea, there is vastly more heat than light on the issues causing this friction.

You can read this entire article: “The South China Sea: The World’s Most Important Body of Water?” in the November, 2014 issue of Asia Pacific Defense Reporter at this link: http://www.asiapacificdefencereporter.com/