SAN FRANCISCO–In geopolitics, when détente fails, it’s time for deterrence, and nowhere more so than in the South China Sea. China’s expansionist designs on the region’s strategic shipping lanes and untapped natural resources are turning it into the next global hotspot.
Last month, the U.S. – signaling its determination to assert its presence– sent one of its guided missile destroyers within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese-built artificial islands in the disputed Spratly archipelago. Beijing was so rattled it warned of a potential war.
Two weeks ago, Japan reported that four Chinese coast guard ships with cannon-like weapons entered its contiguous waters near the disputed Senkaku Island.
More than half of the world’s trade and five trillion dollars worth of goods traverse the region’s waters yearly. Beneath it are untold pockets of oil, natural gas and rare earth minerals. Millions of people in the surrounding Southeast Asian nations depend on it for their living.
Today, China claims dominion over nearly all of the South China Sea. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have overlapping claims, but it is China who has played the aggressor in the absence of the American empire. It has repeatedly rammed Vietnamese fishing boats and arrested Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen in open waters over the last decade.