Even as the world is facing a clear and present danger in the form of globally mobilized Salafist terrorism and a resurgent and spiteful Russia invading its neighbor, there is a new round of alarmism in Australia about disputes in the South China Sea. With the high profile U.S. freedom of navigation operation behind us, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s hawkish tones less audible for now, the issue of strategic imbalance in the South China Sea is gaining currency in Australia.
Concern about a strategic imbalance in the semi-enclosed South China Sea stems in part from the mathematical comparison between Chinese and U.S. forces normally stationed in or near the South China Sea. China’s order of battle in the area far outweighs that of the United States. This should be no surprise, given that China borders the sea area in question and has legitimate claims to millions of square kilometers of maritime resource jurisdiction based on Hainan Island and mainland territory (Guangdong province has 4,000 km of South China Sea coast). In addition, China has claimed several other island groups there since before 1945. In comparison, the United States is not a littoral state and has no claim on territory or resources jurisdiction in the South China Sea.