Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan
THE South China Sea (SCS) has become
flashpoint in the regional as well as in
ternational power politics. It may be a beginning point of new cold war. Despite, Chinese peaceful posturing and signaling the USA did not alter its means of intimidation and tried to bully China by violating its “No Fly Zone (NFZ)” through its U-2 spy plane. In a rare retaliatory action the Chinese military had launched two missiles, including an aircraft-carrier killer, into the SCS in a warning to the US which flustered many capitals of the world. Subsequently, it increased tug of war between China and the US. The SCS is a region of tremendous economic and geostrategic importance. It is the strategic point from where one-third of the world’s maritime shipping passes. It secures USD $3 trillion in trade each year. It has also huge reservoirs of oil and natural gas.
So, frustration of the USA is obvious to capture more and more reservoirs of oil & gas and to contain China. Its regional allies in a shape of Taiwan, Philippines, Australia and last but not least, India have been in search of point of imminent conflict to besiege China. The SCS belongs to China which has 11 billion barrels of untapped oil and 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have already developed spirits of jealous among so-called competing claimants Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. During the regular briefing, senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, confirmed that China had carried out long-planned drills over an area that stretched from Qingdao in northeastern China to the SCS known as the Spratlys. He upheld that Chinese military exercises were not against any country.
The US has been purposefully conducting its own biannual naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii during August 2020, involving forces from regional 10 nations. Vice Admiral Scott D. Conn, the commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet and leader of the exercise, said China had the right to carry out military drills “within international laws and norms but did not restrain himself from China’s “no fly zone”. Being prominent regional expert of China, I uphold that gambit of political alignment, geostrategic redesigning and re-apporachment of US in the region has increased tension between China and USA. I term it vivid reflection of massive Chinese military modernization in the past 20 years enabling it to start any befitting response to aggressors. On the contrary, tension over the SCS and Taiwan have also deteriorated sharply in recent weeks as part of the broader worsening of relations between China and the USA. The American military has recently stepped up operations in the area, including the deployment of two war aircrafts in July in the waters China claims. Moreover, its F-52 bomber war-crafts have already been stationed in “Diego Garcia” the Indian Ocean.
Moreover, the US State Department (USD) also challenged Chinese claim of the SCS declaring it illegal, siding more clearly than ever before with other nations in the region, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The US has now blacklisted 24 Chinese companies and targeted Chinese people, it said were part of construction and military efforts in the SCS which opened a new Pandora Box. The US Commerce Department said the companies played a role in helping the Chinese military construct and militarize the internationally condemned artificial islands in the SCS. On its part, the State Department said it would impose visa restrictions on Chinese individuals responsible for, or complicit in such action and those linked to China’s use of coercion against south-east Asian claimants to inhibit their access to offshore resources.
China promptly responded and blamed the US of violating international law by imposing sanctions on officials and companies involved in Beijing’s military buildup in the SCS. The sanctions add to conflicts over control of the sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The U.S. rejects Chinese claims to most of the area, portions of which also are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments. The Chinese Foreign Ministry says the US sanctions grossly interfere in China’s domestic affairs and are totally out of hegemonic logic and power politics. To follow its China containment policy (CCP) the U.S. Navy has 38 ships underway in the Indo-Pacific region, including in the South China Sea. The US accuses China of militarising the SCS and trying to intimidate Asian neighbours who might want to exploit the area’s extensive oil and gas reserves. US warships have sailed through the region to assert the freedom of access to international waterways, raising fears of clashes.
It fears that the unilateral actions of the US is heating up the SCS, raising the risk of an armed conflict that seemed highly unlikely just months ago amid unprecedented global health and economic crises too. During its latest drills in the SCS on August 18, the US Navy’s USS Mustin destroyer upped the ante by reportedly piercing through for the first time the western side of the median line dividing mainland China and Taiwan. China immediately, lashed back by describing the US move as extremely dangerous and showed its commitment to defend its interests and claims in the area, including the eventual integration of Taiwan with the mainland.
USA also violated One China Policy (OCP) by dispatching a surveillance aircraft i.e. US Navy Lockheed EP-3E ARIES II, to Taiwan following a major bilateral defence deal and an unprecedented visit by an American cabinet official to the self-governed island. The US has also deployed stealth bombers for major exercises in the Sea of Japan in a show of support to another key regional ally. Referring to America’s expanding naval presence in its adjacent waters and burgeoning defence ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, China has recently described its superpower rival’s actions as “a real threat to peace. Senior Colonel Zhang Chunhui, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Eastern Theatre Command warned the US’ actions will embolden forces supporting “Taiwan independence” and, accordingly, raise the risk of armed confrontation. Government of Pakistan fully supports and honours China’s claim on the South China Sea.
—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.