Growing Militarization of the South China Sea, US-China Confrontation

Monday, April 18, 2016
By Paul Martin

Two Case Studies

By Brian Kalman
Global Research
April 18, 2016

The South China Sea Dispute or Crisis as it has come to be known, is a rather complicated dispute involving many different parties, both directly and indirectly, and that concerns a number of key issues. These concerns include national sovereignty, control of oil and natural gas, fishing rights, and the freedom of navigation on the high seas. It is a matter of argument whether the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has helped resolve some aspects of the dispute or has done more to confuse and exacerbate the situation.

The dispute has reached a point of crisis over the past year, as China has upped the ante in its claims to most of the South China Sea. In 2009, China officially submitted its claims in the region to the UN, what came to be known as the “Nine Dash Line” claim. The Nine Dash Line claim basically asserts that the majority of the entire South China Sea is the historical, sovereign territory of China. In order to reinforce such a claim, China embarked on a rapid and ambitious plan to develop a number of reefs and islands in both the Paracel and Spratly Island chains in 2011. The island development involves a great deal of land reclamation that has created man made islands that China intends to occupy, administer and militarily reinforce.

The island construction efforts have worried the United States, which is wary of growing Chinese influence and ambition in the region. The Obama administration has increased military aid and cooperation with rival claimants in the region and has embarked on a course of military brinkmanship with China. Stressing the desire to maintain freedom of navigation through the South China Sea, a legitimate concern, the U.S. Navy has conducted a series of operations starting in late 2015, where warships have sailed within 12 nautical miles of these island construction operations, as well as fly-overs by surveillance aircraft and B-52 bombers. The USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier strike group was dispatched to the South China Sea in March of 2016, as the United States continues to increase its military presence in the region.

As the United States Navy is repeatedly sent to probe the reaction and resolve of China in staking its claim to sovereignty in the South China Sea over the coming year, it would seem prudent that diplomats and naval strategists study the historical precedent of two naval engagements fought by China in the region in past decades. China and Vietnam fought the Battle of the Paracel Islands in 1974 and the Johnson South Reef Skirmish in 1988. These two naval engagements between rival claimants to the islands had a significant influence on the course of the South China Sea Dispute over the intervening years and has led to the increasing militarization that we are witnessing today. A study of these two events are essential if an understanding of the current state of affairs in the region are to be understood.

I The Battle of the Paracel Islands, 1974

The Rest…HERE

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