America's role in the South China Sea
China is, without a shred of doubt, one of the most powerful nations on Earth. With an immense population of over a billion people, a strong and growing economy, a rapid urbanization campaign, and a strong military, China is set to be a global power by the next decade. As China spreads its global influence, however, it is creating enormous problems for its Asian neighbors
China has recently embarked on a massive island-building campaign in the South China Sea-and a number of these islands are military bases. These islands don’t just serve as military bases. Instead, a number of these islands help to fortify and reinforce Chinese claims in the South China sea. The South China sea holds a number of natural resources that China would like to claim for itself, including oil and natural gas, as well as vast fishing grounds. These resources, however, are disputed with Chinese neighbors-namely Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines. China is also installing radar on the islands for ship tracking purposes, and is even planning an undersea, submarine observation network, which would help to locate more natural resources and analyze traffic passing through the South China Sea.
China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea has created tension between it and it’s south-east Asian neighbors. China bases its claims to the South China sea on the “9-dash line”, which comes from a map drawn in 1947. In 2016, however, an international tribunal ruled this claim was invalid, sparking outrage in China. China proceeded to assert that it would not abide by the ruling, as there is no way for the ruling to legitimately be enforced without potentially sparking a war.
Tensions were always high, even before the ruling. In 2012, the Philippine navy intercepted 8 Chinese fishing boats, but couldn’t arrest them, as two Chinese ships arrived, leading to a standoff. In January of 2016, China placed an oil rig in disputed waters with Vietnam, to Vietnam’s great objection. Later in 2016, the Indonesian Navy shot at and arrested a Chinese fishing trawler. Likewise, China has pledged to arrest anyone “illegally” fishing in the South China sea. In response, the US begun patrols in the South China sea, much to China’s dismay.
These incidents in the South China sea have lead to legitimate fears of war. Rodrigo Duterte, the eccentric president of the Philippines, claimed that Xi Jinping threatened war with the Philippines over an oil dispute in the South China sea. US Bombers have routinely flown over the region as a show of force, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis warned China about militarization of its man-made islands.
War in the South China sea would be a disaster. 5 trillion dollars worth of trade flows through the disputed waters-and a war in the midst of this vital trade route would disrupt the global economy and trade system. In addition, damaging of US-China relations could potentially lead to China growing closer to North Korea and Russia.
Instead, American power should be used to draw all parties to the negotiating table. If the US is able to work out a compromise in a region, it would avert a potential war, and result in the natural resources of the region being distributed fairly. If China refuses to negotiate, America can use hard power-Carrier strike groups, planes, and warships, to pressure China into negotiating. Even if negotiations end up breaking down, it is much better for nations to engage in dialogue, rather than nations engaging in active warfare.