The South China Sea: Flashpoint of the Asia-Pacific

by | Aug 21, 2012 | Videos | 0 comments

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by James Corbett
August 21, 2012

If the Asia-Pacific region is becoming, in the words of Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton, “the strategic and economic center of gravity” of the world, then the South China Sea may just be the strategic center of that strategic center.

At first glance, there is nothing particularly remarkable about this area of the Pacific. Stretching from the southern shores of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan in the north to Malaysia and Indonesia in the south, it covers about 3.5 million square kilometers and contains three archipelagos containing over 250 islands, reefs, shoals, atolls and sandbars, most of them containing no indigenous population, and many of them submerged for part or all of the year.

Upon closer inspection, however, the waters comprising the South China Sea are of central importance to the region. It is the second busiest sea lane in the world, and contains proven oil reserves of over 7 billion barrels, with an estimated 28 billion barrels total and 266 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

As the sea’s importance becomes more and more pronounced, and as the region itself sees its major players asserting themselves more aggressively on the world stage, the area has become a flashpoint for disputes between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Now, tensions in the area are threatening to spill over into armed confrontation.

This growing tension is made possible by an increasingly assertive Chinese Navy, bolstered by a number of technological upgrades in recent years that are increasingly transforming it into a world-class naval power.

Founded in 1949 with less than two dozen poorly-equipped ships, the naval force of the fledgling communist Chinese PLA relied for the first two decades of its existence on vessels purchased from the Soviet Union. In the 1970s, the Chinese began designing and building its own surface ships, and currently have assault ships, destroyers, frigates, and nuclear attack submarines in their increasingly sophisticated fleet.

China is even set to commission its first aircraft carrier later this year. Purchased from Ukraine and refitted by the Chinese themselves, the ship began sea trials last year and is expected to enter the fleet within the next several months.

All of these developments have given rise to a new era of Chinese naval aggression, and has even led to China asserting itself more forcefully on the world stage.

Recently I had a chance to talk to Eric Draitser, the host of the Stop Imperialism podcast and contributor to, about the situation, and the position that China, the US and the other players in the region are taking in this conflict.

From this US-China nationalistic struggle for dominance over the prized sea lane, however, a third way is emerging, one that is being pushed by a corporate, multi-national power elite. In this third way, disputes will not be settled one by one between disputant countries, but through a regional organization that will have increasing power to arbitrate over the region’s disputed waters.

The idea comes from the International Crisis Group, a supposedly non-partisan, non-profit, non-governmental organization that is supposedly “committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict” around the globe. In reality, it is a mouthpiece for the same international “superclass” touted by the likes of David Rothkopf, with funds coming from the Carnegie Corporation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, BP, Chevron, Shell, Morgan Stanley, and an assorted who’s who of council members, donors and advisors. Representing the same oligarchical interests as the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission, and other supranational organizations, the International Crisis Group asserts a post-nationalist philosophy of so-called humanitarian interventions and regional governmental frameworks.

Unsurprisingly, the Crisis Group’s white paper on the South China Sea standoff attempts to “resolve” the conflict by saying that everyone is to blame, and only a strengthened and re-invigorated ASEAN or similar organization will be able to act as an effective moderator in the dispute.

Having failed to reach a consensus on a public communique for the first time in its 45 year history at a ministerial meeting last month, ASEAN is now being seen as too weak and ineffective to arbitrate the region’s tensions and the Crisis Group is advocating the building up of a stronger regional framework to produce “joint management” of the region’s resources.

Left unstated in the report is that these ideas are being promoted by the self-same corporate chieftains and political insiders who have been advocating for the subsumption of national sovereignty in North and South America, Africa, and Europe, in the name of “regional” governments that are bureaucratic in nature, democratically opaque, and open to manipulation and control by the multinational corporations and institutional foundations behind organizations like the Crisis Group.

Now, once again, the people of the Asia-Pacific region are left between a rock and a hard place. Forced to choose between supporting their national interests in aggressive naval squabbles over uninhabited islands or to cede their sovereignty to unelected, unaccountable regional government institutions, it seems that no matter what they do, the people pay with their lives and their freedom for the wars of conquest and geopolitical games of their so-called leaders.

As the tension in the South China Sea continues to rise, it is by no means certain how these disputes will be resolved. However, one thing is for certain: in this Asia-Pacific century, the South China Sea will continue to be a key piece of the chessboard for any would-be regional superpower.



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