FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The South China Sea Word War

As Cold War 2.0 between the U.S. and Russia remains far from being defused, the last thing the world needs is a reincarnation of Bushist hawk Donald “known unknowns” Rumsfeld.

Instead, the — predictable — “known known” we get is Pentagon supremo Ash Carter.

Neocon Ash threw quite a show at the Shangri-La Dialogue this past weekend in Singapore.

Beijing is engaged in reclamation work in nine artificial islands in the South China Sea; seven in the atolls of the Spratlys, and two others in the Paracel archipelago. Ash virtually ordered Beijing to put an “immediate and lasting halt” to the expansion; accused it of behaving “out of step” with international norms; and capped the show by flying over the Strait of Malacca out of Singapore in a V-22 Osprey.

Washington never ceases to remind the world that “freedom of navigation” in the Strait of Malacca – through which China imports a sea of energy – is guaranteed by the U.S. Navy.

After Shangri-la, U.S. President Barack Obama also felt the need to play ball, stressing China should respect the law and stop “throwing elbows,” even though he admitted, “it may be that some of their claims are legitimate.” So what? When you are a “Pacific power,” you have the right to remain not silent on, well, everything.

Looking at the Big Picture, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at least tried to put on a brave face, insisting the Pacific Ocean is “vast enough” for both Washington and Beijing.

So once again we’re back to two square kilometers of rocks, micro-islands and atolls, nested in a whopping 150,000 square kilometers of literally murky waters, and a thousand kilometers away from the Chinese eastern seaboard.

Beijing claims “undisputed” sovereignty over at least 80% of the South China Sea. It’s not only about at least $5 trillion in unexplored oil and gas; this is right in the middle of a mega-busy, global economy prime naval highway where Europe, the Middle East, China, Japan, South Korea and many an ASEAN nation exchange energy and a myriad of goods.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s rebuke to Ash Carter was quite detailed. The key point: the code of conduct in the South China Sea should be – and in fact will be — negotiated between China and ASEAN. Everybody knows it across Southeast Asia.

And then the clincher; as Beijing sees it, none of this has absolutely anything to do with the U.S.

Tell it to the neocons of the Ash variety. The neocon undisguised fear is that “Chinese aggression” is transforming these waters into the Mare Nostrum of the People’s Republic of China. Ever since the end of World War II and Japanese capitulation, the “Pacific power” has attributed to itself the mantle of Lord of the Pacific — from Asia to California. It’s easy to see this is not going to end well – as in China’s new assertiveness perhaps heralding the beginning of the end of the hegemon.

So what is Ash to do? If he’s true to his word that the U.S. wants to remain the “prime military power in East Asia for decades to come,” he’s got to dispatch a naval fleet to block a considerable stretch of the Chinese eastern seaboard. Welcome to the South China Sea geopolitical time bomb.

Do the Reclamation

If in the South China Sea we have China opposed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, in the East China Sea we have China opposed by Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Beijing has been adamant there won’t be an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea for now — as conditions are not “appropriate.” We all remember when the ADIZ in the East China Sea was announced at the end of 2013. The Pentagon dispatched a couple of B-52s for a stroll. The tension was, and remains — relatively — defused. For now.

The notion that China is an evil dragon about to engulf all minions in these waters is bogus. Way before the commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, snarled that a “Great Wall of Sand” was being built in the South China Sea, the other regional players were far from paralyzed bystanders.

In fact, for a long time China — alongside Brunei — did not have an airstrip in the South China Sea. The Philippines have it, in Thitu island. Vietnam has it, plus a heliport, in Truong Sa. Malaysia has it, in Swallow Reef — and that hosts plenty of military aircraft. Taiwan has a military airport in Taiping.

Beijing may surely use the artificial islands to deploy aerial and naval hardware. But it’s not only China that is doing reclamation work. Vietnam is doing it in two atolls in the Spratlys.

Washington for its part got access to eight Filipino bases — including the Carlito Cunanan naval base, in the heart of South China Sea action. Manila, as the regional weak link, bets on a two-pronged strategy: Unrestricted Washington support, and full internationalization of all things South China Sea.

Taiwan has been busy investing in a homemade stealth missile corvette; low maintenance, ultra-mobile and heavily weaponized.

Meanwhile, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas, is quite enthusiastic about the Japanese exercising the proverbial “more active role” not only in the East China Sea but also between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

There’s no mistake Washington is allowing the remilitarization of Japan. So it’s time to launch a South China/East China Sea Watch. As in monitoring them for any dangerous pretext for a casus belli between the declining hegemon and the no longer “keep a low profile” re-emerging power.

Cold Won Ton War, Anyone?

The stage is set for a tremendous high-stakes game. For Beijing, expansion between the Spratlys and the Paracels means breaking through the geographical limits of Southeast Asia as an anticipation to projecting power through the Indian Ocean all the way to Southwest Asia.

For Washington, it will be all about disturbing the Maritime Silk Road — which is the route through which Beijing imports — via the Strait of Malacca and then the South China Sea — no less than 82% of its oil and 30% of natural gas.

Expect plenty of high-handed homilies about Washington’s duty to protect “freedom of navigation” and endless condemnations of “Chinese aggression” — all counterpointed by the expansion of the New Silk Roads, the New Development Bank set up by the BRICs, and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank boasting other BRICs members, plus Germany and assorted Europeans, on the board of directors; all vectors in a multiple strategy undermining U.S. dollar hegemony.

Gone are the early Obama days when Kissinger and Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski suggested a “special relationship” of sorts between the U.S. and China; a sort of lop-sided G-2 de facto controlled by the exceptionalist hegemon. No wonder Beijing was wary. So now the Obama administration is back to default mode — as in containment. Ash Carter is just taking it one step beyond.

As Cold War 2.0 is far from defused, now we also have to factor the Cold Soy Sauce War — or the Cold Won Ton War. U.S. neocons better beware of tiger prawn indigestion.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

This piece first appeared at Asia Times.

More articles by:

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).  His latest book is Empire of ChaosHe may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail