A dispute without resolution
In many previous ‘Messages from the Bridge’ I have argued against UK defence cuts given the increasingly tense state of international relations and ever increasing threat of terrorism.
Control of the seas has always been a major dynamic in world affairs with its power to influence world trade and its access to mineral resources. And there is currently no greater potential flashpoint in world affairs – at both regional and global superpower levels – than the dispute in the South China Sea.
In July 2016 an international arbitration ruling in the Hague gave unanimous support to the case made by the Philippines that China’s claim to large areas of the South China Sea – as delineated by the infamous “nine-dash line” drawn by China back in 1940 – had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights.
China’s reaction to this landmark ruling has been to completely ignore it. As well as tensions with other neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam, the Chinese are pitched against the other global superpower, the US, in trying to assert their influence in the South China Sea region. The US has upped its naval presence in recent years with the aim of protecting “freedom of navigation” in waters through which a significant amount of world trade passes. China in turn has embarked on a process of building artificial islands to provide it with further military bases.
To add some further complexity to the South China Sea dispute, there is growing tension between China and the US over the American support for South Korea in the face of North Korea’s ongoing missile testing and bellicose threats from its leader Kim Jong-un.
So at this moment of time there does not seem to be a straight-forward solution to easing the tensions and resolving the various territorial claims. Even though we are in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems that the age-old scenario of international superpowers wrestling for pole position – in terms of military might and strategic control of maritime trade routes and resources – continues to be played out.
As the French would say “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR