The Dangerous Battle for the South China Sea

June 3, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Asia Tags: Shangri-La DialogueSouth China SeaAsia

The Dangerous Battle for the South China Sea

All gloves are off as the United States, China and the rest of Asia stake their positions.

Senior Colonel Zhao Xiaozhuo of China's Academy of Military Science asserted: "The freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is not at all an issue because the freedom has never been affected," and hubristically claimed that the region has remained stable and peaceful because of China's great restraint, while Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to Washington, has implausibly blamed the United States for escalating tensions in the South China Sea.

Overall, China’s rise is creating what political scientist James N. Rosenau calls “fragmegration,” a simultaneous process of integration, driven by China’s trade and investment ties with the world, and fragmentation, thanks to its coercive pursuit of sweeping maritime claims in adjacent waters. The key challenge for the United States is deploying sufficient military muscle in order to deter China from imposing an ADIZ in the area and choking off the supply-lines of other claimant states, particularly treaty allies such as the Philippines, without triggering any clashes with China.

China’s latest “white paper” on defense strategy openly emphasized “offshore defense” and “open sea defense,” reflecting Beijing’s growing strategic and territorial ambitions in high seas. With reports suggesting China is placing motorized artillery pieces and other advanced defensive systems on the islands, and warning U.S. against deploying military assets to the area, it seems that Beijing is bracing for more jostling with Washington. The fate of Asia could very well be defined by the trajectory of the Sino-American jostling in the South China Sea.

Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy