Despite the stories in the news for as long as anyone can remember on the conflict in the Middle East, foreign policy watchers are more concerned about another hot point, which could lead to a Third World War. The BBC explains the conflict here, but in short, there are several dozen uninhabited islands which several countries including China lay claim to. While the islands are uninhabited, they are surrounded by rich natural resources and are in the middle of popular shipping and fishing areas.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) writes on the conflict,
The risk of conflict in the South China Sea is significant. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines have competing territorial and jurisdictional claims, particularly over rights to exploit the region’s possibly extensive reserves of oil and gas. Freedom of navigation in the region is also a contentious issue, especially between the United States and China over the right of U.S. military vessels to operate in China’s two-hundred-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). These tensions are shaping—and being shaped by—rising apprehensions about the growth of China’s military power and its regional intentions. China has embarked on a substantial modernization of its maritime paramilitary forces as well as naval capabilities to enforce its sovereignty and jurisdiction claims by force if necessary. At the same time, it is developing capabilities that would put U.S. forces in the region at risk in a conflict, thus potentially denying access to the U.S. Navy in the western Pacific.
Given the growing importance of the U.S.-China relationship, and the Asia-Pacific region more generally, to the global economy, the United States has a major interest in preventing any one of the various disputes in the South China Sea from escalating militarily.
The CFR goes on to say “The most likely and dangerous contingency is a clash stemming from U.S. military operations within China’s EEZ that provokes an armed Chinese response.” This week, that’s exactly what happened. Today U.S. officials told CNN that the United States is considering deploying aircraft and ships to the region. This is happening on the heels of an increased commitment on the part of the Chinese to fortifying the islands and building up their Naval resources. For the last several years, it has appeared the Chinese government has been preparing militarily for conflict in the region, stretching its muscles. CNN reports,
A report released last week by the International Crisis Group said that clashes among the claimants were “becoming more heated and the lulls between period of tension are growing shorter.”
“The handling of the competing claims will set the tone for relations within East Asia for years. The cost of even a momentary failure to manage tensions could pose a significant threat to one of the world’s great collaborative economic success stories,” the report said.
Over the course of the Obama administration, U.S. officials have avoided checking China’s military power and its expansion. Is it too late to do so now?
Comment below: Are you scared of an armed conflict with China?