The South China Sea is an area of 3.5 million km2, part of the Pacific Ocean, which surrounded by many countries in Eastern Asia and Southeast Asia, including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, and Indonesia. There has been disagreement among these countries of which claiming the South China Sea as part of their territorial, and also the dispute against China as it builds military base on the islands (Hunt and Quiano, 2016). The conflicts have escalated as China, using military forces, extruded Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen several times, rising the tension between China and Vietnam, Philippines, as well as the United States, the alliance of Vietnam and Philippines, who has been interfering since then (Hunt and Quiano, 2016). However, under Obama’s administration Philippines’s President, Rodrigo Duterte, decided to split with the United States, and tied itself with China (Aljazeera, 2016), which reasonably subsiding the tensions in the area, particularly between Philippines and China.
This article will not focus on the chronological of the rising tensions as it is already well documented by BBC, CNN, and Bloomberg. Instead, this article will be focusing on extracting the true political motives or reasons, especially by China and the United States, who are particularly desperate to get control over the South China Sea.
(Please note that some analysis will be based on personal analysis and opinions).
There are some reasons why political factors play an important role in this matter. Since 2009, China has become one of the biggest “competitor” for the United States, both politically and economically. With the growth rate hit above 10 percent between 2009 – 2011, and maintained growth rate at approximately 7 percent since then (Husna, 2016), China has raised itself as the second largest economic superpower, and increased its political influence over the world. However, some argue that the methods implemented by China, such as manipulating exchange rate, other economic tactics, etc. (Slaughter, 2016) have adverse effects to many countries, including the United States, as they negatively impact the US’s economy. Since then, The United States has arguably and unofficially been on “war” against China.
From the United States point of view, the case of the disputed islands could be used to stop China taking over the United States as the world leader. The strategy is simple, sending troops to increase the tensions in the area. When the situation become uncontrollable, the China’s military forces may make mistake and rise the tension to the whole new level, potentially change the area into a war zone. The United States can use this situation as an alibi to impose sanction on China, with the main reason that is China has threatened the safety and soar the risk of third world war. This situation is particularly probable as the United States has exercised the same action towards Russia. As Russia got involve with the Ukraine’s politics, which lead to conflicts and the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines MH-17 (BBC, 2016), the United States decided to impose sanctions on Russia, where some assets of Russian billionaire in the United States have been frozen, and trades to the country have been banned (Torbati, 2016). Consequently, the economy of Russia, worsen by the tumbling oil prices, plummeted to its lowest level. The same strategy may be used to prevent China surpassing the United States in term of political and economic power. Using the alibi, sanctions will be imposed on China by the United States. Assuming the type of sanction is similar to what has been imposed on Russia, China’s economy will slump exponentially as assets located in the United States worth billions of dollars and the United States in one of the biggest market for Chinese exporters. As the China’s economy slowing down, the United States can regain control over the world.
On the other hand, China may want to have control over the South China Sea as it is a strategist place to strengthen its position in the area. In the nearby area, there are many US’s alliances, including Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. By having control over the South China Sea, China can basically counter-attack in case the United States and its alliances make political maneuver. That is because according to Lawrence and Fan (2016), more than $5 trillion worth of goods are shipped through the South China Sea. As an important economic shipping line, China can minimize the risk of political maneuver if it has control over the area because as soon as the “enemy” implemented the political maneuver, China can immediately respond by strictly patrolling the area and blocked any shipments from or to those countries. Subsequently, the United States and the alliances will not be able to simply execute the strategies as the counter attack will consequently become boomerang and devastate their economies badly.
Ultimately, it is speculated that the United States intervene to get an alibi so that it can stop China surpassing the United States of becoming the economic and political leader. On the other hand, China protects the area in order to strengthen its position, and reduce the flexibility of the United States and its alliances to make political maneuver to go against China. Hence, there are allegedly political reasons behind the increasing tensions in the South China Sea.
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Hunt, K. & Quiano, K. (2016, September 8). South China Sea: China building more islands?. CNN. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/08/asia/south-china-sea-scarborough-shoal-philippines-china/.
Husna, R. (2016, October 19). China GDP annual growth rate. Trading Economics. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/china/gdp-growth-annual.
Lawrence, D. & Fan, W. (2016, December 22). Islands of mass destruction. Bloomberg. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-12-22/coverup-in-the-south-china-sea.
MH17 Ukraine plane crash: what we know. (2016, September 28). BBC. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28357880.
Philippines’ Duterte in China announces split with US. (2016, October 21). Aljazeera. Retrieved on 23 December 2016, from http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/philippines-duterte-china-announces-split-161020131226993.html.
Slaughter, M.J. (2016, January 8). The myths of China’s currency ‘manipulation’. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-myths-of-chinas-currency-manipulation-1452296887.
Torbati, Y. (2016, December 20). U.S. sanctions companies, people over Russia actions in Ukraine. Reuters. Retrieved on December 23, 2016, from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-sanctions-russia-idUSKBN1492AH.