The notion that China is an evil dragon about to engulf all minions in these waters is bogus. Way before the commander of the Pacific fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, snarled that a "Great Wall of Sand" was being built in the South China Sea, the other regional players were far from paralyzed bystanders.
In fact, for a long time China -- alongside Brunei -- did not have an airstrip in the South China Sea. The Philippines have it, in Thitu island. Vietnam has it, plus a heliport, in Truong Sa. Malaysia has it, in Swallow Reef -- and that hosts plenty of military aircraft. Taiwan has a military airport in Taiping.
Beijing may surely use the artificial islands to deploy aerial and naval hardware. But it's not only China that is doing reclamation work. Vietnam is doing it in two atolls in the Spratlys.
Washington for its part got access to eight Filipino bases -- including the Carlito Cunanan naval base, in the heart of South China Sea action. Manila, as the regional weak link, bets on a two-pronged strategy: Unrestricted Washington support, and full internationalization of all things South China Sea.
Taiwan has been busy investing in a homemade stealth missile corvette; low maintenance, ultra-mobile and heavily weaponized.
Meanwhile, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, Vice-Admiral Robert Thomas, is quite enthusiastic about the Japanese exercising the proverbial "more active role" not only in the East China Sea but also between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
There's no mistake Washington is allowing the remilitarization of Japan. So it's time to launch a South China/East China Sea Watch. As in monitoring them for any dangerous pretext for a casus belli between the declining hegemon and the no longer "keep a low profile" re-emerging power.
Cold Won Ton War, anyone?
The stage is set for a tremendous high-stakes game. For Beijing, expansion between the Spratlys and the Paracels means breaking through the geographical limits of Southeast Asia as an anticipation to projecting power through the Indian Ocean all the way to Southwest Asia.
For Washington, it will be all about disturbing the Maritime Silk Road -- which is the route through which Beijing imports -- via the Strait of Malacca and then the South China Sea -- no less than 82% of its oil and 30% of natural gas.
Expect plenty of high-handed homilies about Washington's duty to protect "freedom of navigation" and endless condemnations of "Chinese aggression" -- all counterpointed by the expansion of the New Silk Roads, the New Development Bank set up by the BRICs, and the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank boasting other BRICs members, plus Germany and assorted Europeans, on the board of directors; all vectors in a multiple strategy undermining U.S. dollar hegemony.
Gone are the early Obama days when Kissinger and Dr. Zbig "Grand Chessboard" Brzezinski suggested a "special relationship" of sorts between the U.S. and China; a sort of lop-sided G-2 de facto controlled by the exceptionalist hegemon. No wonder Beijing was wary. So now the Obama administration is back to default mode -- as in containment. Ash Carter is just taking it one step beyond.
As Cold War 2.0 is far from defused, now we also have to factor the Cold Soy Sauce War -- or the Cold Won Ton War. U.S. neocons better beware of tiger prawn indigestion.
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