The Rise of Maritime China

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As The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continues its historically unprecedented economic expansion, with its accompanying prestige, she has accordingly sought to expand her hegemony on the world stage.

The centerpiece of this incrementalist program has been an ambitious and destabilizing program of building up airstrips and bases atop disputed reefs within the South China Sea (SCS). A glance at any map shows that the concept of “East Asia” is indelibly defined by the sea — and the SCS is, at its heart, astride access to both the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Given its centrality, author Robert Kaplan holds that “the South China Sea is as central to Asia as the Mediterranean is to Europe.” The United States must pay close attention to Beijing’s disturbing program.

Through this massive construction of a “Great Wall of Sand,” or as China herself puts it, creation of “facts on the ground,” the PRC seems intent to create a regional fait accompli of sovereignty over this strategic sea.

This expansion has been disconcerting to China’s many neighbors which reject China’s claims — nations such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore — and see access to this key waterway as central to their own economies.

A watershed event occurred July 12, 2016, when The International Court at The Hague rebuked the PRC, stating China’s claim of sovereignty over the SCS had no legal basis.

This ruling, which drew a strong negative reaction from the Chinese public as well as leadership, seems to have created further intransigence on the issue. Unfortunately, International Law does not have its own police force, so China continues its buildup so far unopposed, save occasional blows between fishermen and the occasional diplomatic complaint. China is confident its “incrementalist” buildup will get them where they want.

 

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