The World’s Next “Flash Point:” 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.

Whether it is the intelligence community, the military, industry, or just individuals attempting to get some notion of what the future holds, extrapolating current trends to determine likely outcomes in years “downstream” is absolutely essential to stay one step ahead of any current – or future – adversaries.  This is the work of military and intelligence analysts and is more essential today than ever before.

Access and use of the global commons, particularly the sea and the air space, is a core element of U.S. military and commercial power. In times of war, control of the commons may be ensured by military means. In peacetime it is sought through international law and diplomacy and through limited military responses when the rules governing use of the commons are breached. In some cases, a peacetime incident may quickly result in a reaffirmation of traditional freedoms of the sea. In others, a more concerted effort, combining diplomacy with demonstration, is needed to return to adherence to international norms. This latter combination appears to be the case regarding China and the South China Sea. As noted recently by Patrick Cronin and Paul Giarra:

Chinese assertiveness over its region is growing as fast as China’s wealth and perceived power trajectory. Beijing’s unwelcome intent appears to give notice that China is opting out of the Global Commons.

Though not a new phenomenon, China’s increasingly assertive activities in the South China Sea are drawing concern that the country is seeking regional hegemony at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia as well as the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

China’s challenge to international norms regarding freedom of the seas is no small matter. The South China Sea, which spans an area of nearly 650,000 square miles, is host to the second-busiest sea lane in the world, reaching from the Strait of Singapore in the south to the northern tip of Taiwan in the north and bordering on China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. It was reported that in 2006 “nearly 50 percent of the world’s crude oil, 66 percent of its natural gas, and 40 percent of the world trade” transited through this sea.

Read the full article by following the link below. (.pdf)

The World’s Next “Flash Point:” The South China Sea





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