Two unknowns holding back any South China Sea war
TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - August 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Apparently emboldened by America's biggest show of force in this neighborhood in years when the United States recently sent two of its carrier battle forces to the region and into the South China Sea, Australia and Japan, one after the other, warned China it will soon regret its aggressive and intolerable behavior in the tension-filled area.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said China risks war with the US unless tensions in the South China Sea de-escalate. Morrison took up the same line of thought as his predecessor Kevin Rudd who said what had previously seemed inconceivable --a war between the two superpowers-- was now distinctly possible because of China's behavior.

While Morrison said he will not put it as dramatically as Rudd did when he said a "hot war" was possible, the Australian leader nevertheless said what was previously inconceivable and not even considered possible or likely before can no longer be considered in those contexts anymore, which is his long way of saying war is no longer impossible.

Not long after, the normally-reticent Japan issued its own warning to Beijing, saying its aggressive construction of fortified islands in the South China Sea cannot be allowed to pass without China paying a very high cost. Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said anyone trying to change the status quo by force must be made to pay a very high price.

Australia and Japan are two of America's allies in the region that have credible military forces of their own. And while not nuclear armed, both countries on the side of the US can really tip the scales heavily in America's favor. There, too, is South Korea plus, by no longer a very long shot, India, whose problematic ties with China might just push the nuclear state to join up with the US-led anti-China posse.

However, beyond the rhetoric, there is still nothing on the plates of everyone that can make any party willing to actually go to a pre-meditated war. Only an accidental pull on the trigger can start one. Not China, not the US, certainly not the others. The line to the unfathomable is still something no one is willing to consciously cross.

Wittingly or unwittingly, two unknowns in the mix could very well be part of the reason for the conscious pull-back from the trigger, or precipice. Like two elephants in the room, they are just there, Russia and North Korea, unwilling to part with their sentiments, one way or the other, on the South China Sea brouhaha.

Russia and North Korea are at loggerheads with the United States. But will their animosity be sufficient to move them over to the side of China? It is this uncertainty that is forcing the US and its allies to confine themselves only to rhetoric and freedom of navigation missions. Had they any assurance Russia and North Korea will sit idly by (they don't have to go to war), China would have long been toast.

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