Reprinted from Asia Times
As Cold War 2.0 between the U.S. and Russia remains far from being defused, the last thing the world needs is a reincarnation of Bushist hawk Donald "known unknowns" Rumsfeld.
Instead, the -- predictable -- "known known" we get is Pentagon supremo Ash Carter.
Neocon Ash threw quite a show at the Shangri-La Dialogue this past weekend in Singapore.
Beijing is engaged in reclamation work in nine artificial islands in the South China Sea; seven in the atolls of the Spratlys, and two others in the Paracel archipelago. Ash virtually ordered Beijing to put an "immediate and lasting halt" to the expansion; accused it of behaving "out of step" with international norms; and capped the show by flying over the Strait of Malacca out of Singapore in a V-22 Osprey.
Washington never ceases to remind the world that "freedom of navigation" in the Strait of Malacca -- through which China imports a sea of energy -- is guaranteed by the U.S. Navy.
After Shangri-la, U.S. President Barack Obama also felt the need to play ball, stressing China should respect the law and stop "throwing elbows," even though he admitted, "it may be that some of their claims are legitimate." So what? When you are a "Pacific power," you have the right to remain not silent on, well, everything.
Looking at the Big Picture, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at least tried to put on a brave face, insisting the Pacific Ocean is "vast enough" for both Washington and Beijing.
So once again we're back to two square kilometers of rocks, micro-islands and atolls, nested in a whopping 150,000 square kilometers of literally murky waters, and a thousand kilometers away from the Chinese eastern seaboard.
Beijing claims "undisputed" sovereignty over at least 80% of the South China Sea. It's not only about at least $5 trillion in unexplored oil and gas; this is right in the middle of a mega-busy, global economy prime naval highway where Europe, the Middle East, China, Japan, South Korea and many an ASEAN nation exchange energy and a myriad of goods.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry's rebuke to Ash Carter was quite detailed. The key point: the code of conduct in the South China Sea should be -- and in fact will be -- negotiated between China and ASEAN. Everybody knows it across Southeast Asia.
And then the clincher; as Beijing sees it, none of this has absolutely anything to do with the U.S.
Tell it to the neocons of the Ash variety. The neocon undisguised fear is that "Chinese aggression" is transforming these waters into the Mare Nostrum of the People's Republic of China. Ever since the end of World War II and Japanese capitulation, the "Pacific power" has attributed to itself the mantle of Lord of the Pacific -- from Asia to California. It's easy to see this is not going to end well -- as in China's new assertiveness perhaps heralding the beginning of the end of the hegemon.
So what is Ash to do? If he's true to his word that the U.S. wants to remain the "prime military power in East Asia for decades to come," he's got to dispatch a naval fleet to block a considerable stretch of the Chinese eastern seaboard. Welcome to the South China Sea geopolitical time bomb.
Do the Reclamation
If in the South China Sea we have China opposed by Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, in the East China Sea we have China opposed by Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Beijing has been adamant there won't be an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea for now -- as conditions are not "appropriate." We all remember when the ADIZ in the East China Sea was announced at the end of 2013. The Pentagon dispatched a couple of B-52s for a stroll. The tension was, and remains -- relatively -- defused. For now.
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