South China Sea tension rises
Any plan Bs international logisticians may have for dealing with disruptive political events in the South China Sea should be re-examined for their resilience as events in that sea took a turn for the worse in late January.
Having spent considerable sums illegally developing and militarising shoals, reefs and atolls in the Spratly and Paracel islands since 2013 China has just passed a new law that for the first time explicitly allows its coastguard to fire on foreign vessels around these islands, said to be rich in oil an gas reserves. It has also sent its coastguard to chase away fishing vessels from other countries, sometimes sinking them. The law allows the coastguard to use "all necessary means" to stop or prevent threats from foreign vessels. The law also allows coastguard personnel to demolish other countries' structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China.
Responding to international concerns, the Chinese foreign spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said the law is in line with international practices and needed to guard China's sovereignty, security and maritime rights, despite the Permanent Court at the Hague ruling against China's so-called Nine Dash Line claiming about 90% of the South China Sea, through which about two thirds of world trade passes, worth over US5 trillion each year. China has indicated that it has no intention of respecting the Court's ruling.
On January 23 China cranked up the tempo when it sent a large group of bomber and fighter jets into Taiwan's air defence zone near the Pratas Islands. On the same day, America sent a carrier group headed by the USS Theodore Roosevelt into the South China Sea to conduct routine operations "to ensure freedom of the seas, build partnerships and foster maritime security," said the fleet's rear admiral Verissimo, adding "it is vital that we maintain our presence and continue to promote the rules-based order which has allowed us to prosper."
Losing face in the Chinese psyche is akin to committing hara-kiri, a mindset that like a fever in the blood can ignore powerful economic reasons to steady the boat in the interests of all parties. China will continue to probe with its military might, testing the resolve of others, and its recent history of success, as when it bayonetted its way to Lhasa when the international community just indignantly huffed and puffed in response, leaves no cause to be unworried. Yet, the matter may be resolved without man's proposes, for just as man proposes Nature disposes.
China's illegal artificial islands are badly exposed to the frequent threat from regular typhoons and tsunamis, with the latter deriving from megathrust earthquakes generated by the Manila Trench. These could easily overwhelm such low-lying islands. Longer term, global warming's cause of rising sea levels combined with huge wave surges will leave much of China's densely-populated coastal cities at grave risks. China's wealth would be better spent here than in military threats, but when politics clashes with economics the former usually wins to the harm of the people.
its "rights of passage" in the South