China / Foreign Affairs

Balance of Power: The South China Sea

Balance of Power: The South China Sea


Balance of Power politics are back! Recently China had re-iterated its sovereignty over the entire South China Sea as being one of its “core interests”. Such a declaration upped the International stakes as it essentially lumped the disputed area in with its other “non-negotiable” sovereignty areas such as Tibet and Xinjiang.

In response to China’s assertion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the Association of South East Nations in Hanoi last month declared the South China Sea territorial disputes to be both a “diplomatic priority” and a U.S. “national interest”.

Although most nations acquiesce to China’s claims over places like Tibet (much to the chagrin of the people of Boulder Colorado) the claiming of an entire sea (and one in which half of the world’s shipped cargo tonnage passed through last year) served only to create a collective gasp from other nations in the region. One appreciates the chutzpah of China’s claim when you realize that, in their view, anyone bathing in the beaches of Borneo have just entered the territorial waters of the People’s Republic.

China has been working behind the scenes to resolve disputes in the South China Sea with the various nations involved through bilateral channels and attempting to avoid internationalizing the situation. Consequently, nations such as Vietnam, Japan, and Malaysia have been pressuring the United States to engage itself in the issue to offset the alarm the region has felt over China’s ever increasing military buildup.

Clinton’s remarks in Hanoi infuriated China but some analysts suggest it was a payback for the lack of support China showed in the recent incident whereby a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan was sank by North Korea killing 42 people on board. A five nation investigation confirmed that the attack was perpetrated by North Korea but China refused to recognize the report choosing instead to support its long time ally.

Following Clinton’s remark, the U.S. and South Korean navies engaged in a week long series of war games off the South Korean coast officially as a signal to North Korea but with the secondary message to China that the U.S. intends to remain fully engaged to its regional commitments.

China, seeing their bet called, raised the stakes by announcing the deployment of an anti-ship misslebase in Guangdong province with the capability of striking both ships and mining platforms across the entire South China Sea.

What is frightening is that now, more than ever, cool heads must prevail in the region. If there is a spark that could truly ignite a regional, if not a World, War it would be in this key geographic area.

Balance of Power politics seem to be back in vogue… whether we like it or not!

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