Reduced to bluffing
TO THE QUICK - Jerry S. Tundag (The Freeman) - May 25, 2018 - 12:00am

Admiral Philip Davidson, the incoming chief of the US Pacific Command, is asking for increased US military presence in the Indo-Pacific region. The move may be meant to address China's assertive posture in the South China Sea. But it is a move that is a way bit too late. China has effectively taken control of the area and any move by the US at this time to disturb that fact is, for all intents and purposes, an act of aggression.

The United States should have acted way before China even drove the first spade into some remote sandbar in the contested islands in the South China Sea. For it is difficult to imagine it knew nothing of the Chinese designs for the area, much less the initiation of that country's first physical activities to bring form and substance to such designs.

China has great need for control of the South China Sea. With more than one billion mouths to feed and a way of life to sustain, Beijing covets the vast marine and energy resources the South China Sea offers. It was never about a matter of sovereignty for China, although that would be the logical train of thought for political scientists to pursue.

Sovereignty only comes as a matter of course to China's far greater practical need for control of the South China Sea --its very own national survival. Even a simple and cursory look at any map will suggest that China has no other fishpond except the South China Sea, and no other energy sources from beyond its mostly potentially hostile land-locked borders.

It is the common sense move of China to gain unrestricted access to the South China Sea. Any country similarly situated would do the same for the sake of its own survival. And the only way to gain unrestricted access to the rich region is to effectively control it. And I do not think any strategic analyst from any of the world's great powers failed to see what was coming, least of all the bright boys in the United States.

But as strange and odd as it may seem, the United States practically did nothing, unless making some noises can be counted as amounting to something. Noises do not easily scare a country as desperate for its own survival as China, more especially since China has the capacity to fight back if noise comes into physical form. In fact, China probably analyzed the situation far better than anyone else did.

There is now reason to believe, on hindsight, that China perfectly read what the US reaction would be when it drove the first spade of reclamation into the first remote sandbar in the South China Sea. And the US reaction that China read perfectly was to do exactly nothing. Which is why, while the US just made noise, China went ahead and fortified and militarized the islands they built and made rise from the sea.

And now the US wants to counter with a military buildup of its own? Nah, unless of course it wants to plunge into yet another undeclared war, but this time much closer to home. The South China Sea is virtually a part of the Pacific basin, at the other side of which is the US homeland itself. Any armed conflict in the Pacific naturally exposes one side of the United States. I think, apart from the noises, there will be no real US meddling in China's affairs.

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