South China Sea overreach
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - November 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Last week’s harassment of an all-Filipino manned Greek tanker by the Chinese Coast Guard inside the Philippine territorial waters may be a minor incident compared to the ramming by Chinese fishing militia of a Filipino fishing boat, or the Chinese building military installations in the area. This will not be the last and many more will come. The incursions of the navies and air forces of US, Australia, and Britain into the shipping routes/air spaces which are challenged by China will also continue, hopefully without fatalities.

China’s claim of the whole of the South China seas, including the territorial waters of neighboring countries and the international waters, is a classic geo-political overreach. They have walked back from the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) definition of territorial and international waters anchoring their claim on their “Nine-Dash Line Document”/Map encompassing the South China Sea as part of their territory. The UNCLOS has debunked China’s claim in 2016 as their “Nine-Dash Line Document” never existed until the late 1960s.

China’s motives on these claims are understandable given historical and current circumstances. Having reached superpower status as a nation in 40 years, and now the second-largest economic and military power, it is flexing its muscles. It is also retribution time for all the years that China was the subject of colonization by the European nations and the US. There is also China’s need for raw materials and resources to sustain its rapidly-growing economy. These are all sourced from countries all over the world but the resources in the South China Sea are just too tempting to pass up. These motives also play well politically as it builds up pride of country and nationalism. Chinese government propaganda in the controlled main and social media have harped on this South China Sea claim as in existence for centuries.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, the South China Sea is strategically and economically important not just to China but to all the nations in the whole world. As a trade route, some $5 trillion worth of goods pass through the designated “freedom of passage” route annually, and are increasing every year. The value of natural resources, marine products, minerals, gas and oil, and other exotic resources are in the trillions of dollars. Militarily, it is a strategic chokepoint from north to south, and even from east to west. Definitely a potential flashpoint for a geo-political war.

At a time when China has established itself as producer of almost anything and everything, become a technological powerhouse in many scientific fields, a global investor and lender, a dominant international trader, and an emerging military power, this South China Sea overreach may be counterproductive. Recent criticisms on the onerous lending and investment practices of the Chinese government, banks, and private investors in developing countries, their government’s treatment of ethnic minorities, the Hong Kong protests, and the pushback of Vietnam, Philippines, and other Asian countries for their territorial waters are tainting China’s march as a responsible world leader.

The cost of achieving control of the whole South China Sea for China would be tremendous in terms of naval and aerial presence and enforcement. But the greater cost would be economic as it will affect their economic relations with the rest of the world. If the current US-China trade war is already creating ripples in the Chinese economy, a shooting war would lead to a China economic depression and the whole world. Can China and the world really afford a war over the South China Sea?

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with