There had been a decade-old weapons ban on Vietnam, which was recently removed by the U.S. President Barack Obama on his recent visit through East Asia. This is deemed to be the latest progress or move in the game that the US and China have been involved with in from the past many years. The current focus of the same has been the South China Sea. China’s motives have been to be the hegemon of the whole region. Beijing wants the full tangible authority over the South China Sea to feel self-secured. Every neighboring nation wants a foot-hold on the reefs and other small islands in this particular sea, hence the dispute has been going on and on for a very long time.
New Phase of Unpleasant Expansion
This offensive extension is the result of Obama administration’s 2011 proclamation of shifting its focus back to the Pacific. Earlier, as the US was busy with the turmoil with Iraq and Afghanistan, it seemed that China will be able to conquer the Asia easily, but this fortunately, could not happen. Geographically, China is fully interested to have the largest share in the South China Sea. China has already extended itself from the sea floor and owns 7 islets and reefs in the Spratlys. Additionally, it is in dispute with Vietnam over the Paracel Islands and with Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal. In 2012, China tried to put an impression on the world by building Sansha city in the Paracels Islands. This was to make a foot-hold in the sea by providing internal administrative control. Also, these build-ups allow naval and air bases to further cement the economic and national claim with the presence of military troops.
The Pacific and South China Sea are pertinent to the United States, economically and also from military point of view. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal further cements the association of USA and Asia. China’s share in this region to the extent that 60% of its trade is through this region. China’s dominating position is impacting the economic and political situation of smaller nations like Vietnam.
Although, China is going hand-in-hand with other economies, it still has intensions of having controlling interest in the South China Sea region. China’s response to the TPP comes with its own modifications like, proposing a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which is based in Beijing. The USA is not in favour of these terms, but the Asia Pacific Economic Corporation forum, APEC and USA’s associates like Australia and South Korea are in favour of the deal and have already signed some major free-trade pacts with China.
USA’s Retort on South China Sea Dispute
The USA has in turn responded by increasing its military base in the region! The US navy has appointed a major portion of its troops in the Pacific. Simultaneously, the US Army has created “Pacific Pathways”, which enables the army troops to roam in and around some specific areas for 3 months. As per the United States Pacific Command, it will deploy Civil Military Support elements and Military Information Support teams, i.e. special operations teams, in the US embassies, along with placing Special Forces to advise and consult their counterparts from other nations. USA has entered into fresh deals with Japan, Philippines and Vietnam, all of which have been negatively affected by China’s aggression in the past.
China shifted an oil rig along with patrol boats for its protection, into Vietnam’s EEZ (Exclusive Economic zone), to indirectly remind its small neighbor that its association with USA will not impact China. In spite of the pressure that China is putting, Vietnam has further strengthened its contacts with USA. The Philippines also is moving closer to USA to retaliate and respond to China upon its actions concerning Scarborough Shoal conflict.
Japan, however, is the most important partner of the USA. Together, they are planning to improve their respective capabilities to carry combined operations.
China sees the US as a declining economy and assumes its troops to be expensive yet fragile and useless. China’s technological development has been remarkable in comparison to the United States. China is viewing itself the giant of 21st century similarly as USA viewed itself in the 20th century. This game is being played by making South China Sea islands as the centre of attention. However, islands are not as pertinent to China as important to it is challenging USA in front of the whole world. This conflict will not end up in a war, as the international community would not let that happen. China will benefit the most from this as it has just released its Defense White Paper in 2015.
United States has its weak link coming from the past and China. There are 4 options, all of which are in China’s favour. These are:
- US can go on with low quality military confrontations which are inefficient against China;
- US can go for a full-fledged war and suffer heavily with losses all around;
- It can leave its recent associates, the Philippines, Japan and Vietnam, and ally with China on different terms;
- It can totally move out of Asia and be in a politically correct situation with China.
All these options favour China in today’s given circumstances making it a more powerful economy of the 21st century.