A report in today’s Philippine Star, (independently?) verified by Reuters says that China has “taken” yet another atoll: this time the Quirino Atoll, also known as Jackson Atoll in the Spratly Islands group.
The Spratlys are described as a “resource-rich region and critical shipping lane linking North Asia to Europe, South Asia and the Middle East,” and I suspect those are two of the reasons for China’s aggression ~ let’s call a spade and spade ~ in the region. China is, of course, still developing at a rapid rate and development brings an ever increasing demand for oil and some countries, certainly Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, all hope there is undersea oil there, but another credible source says that “the Spratlys are not important for any oil and gas under them — but rather because of the oil and gas (and everything else under the sun) that floats past them. More than half of world maritime trade passes through the South China Sea, with the world’s busiest shipping lane passing right by the Spratlys. That includes billions of barrels of oil a year and hundreds of billions of cubic feet worth of liquefied natural gas. Control this flow and you control the energy security of Asia.“
Whatever the reason, China’s rush to establish “facts on the ground” throughout the South China Seas is worrisome to its neighbours and to their American friends. While America has chosen to use military Freedom of Navigation exercises to test the limits (and will) of the Chinese, the Philippines has taken the high road and has taken the dispute to the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in the The Hague … the only glitch is that China doesn’t recognize the PCA.
My guess ~ and that’s all it is ~ is that China is willing to play “bumper cars” with all comers, including the mighty United States Navy so long as the risks of escalation can be
managed. That same guess says that, given its own socio-political and economic problems, America is in a “limited response” mode … it needs to “do something,” but exactly what the right (and affordable) something might be remains unclear. Some commentators think that China’s aggression is, ultimately, self defeating, that it will drive the smaller South East Asian nations closer together and closer to America, rather than, as China should wish, to weaken America’s power in Asia. I believe that, and an arms race in Asia, are the most visible short term outcomes, but, as I have said before, China plays a “long game” and their strategy may just produce some desirable (from China’s perspective) long term benefits if it does, indeed, control a “choke point” through which “more than half of world maritime trade passes.”
What should Canada do?
The Philippines is the obviously aggrieved party and it taking the responsible courses of action. Canada should support it.
The United States is exercising Freedom of Navigation on everyone’s behalf. Canada should support that, too … diplomatically and militarily, by sending a Canadian warship into the region to display solidarity with our friends there.
Australia is moving quickly and steadfastly to build up its military and to put itself forward as a regional, Pacific leader by, inter alia, committing to spending 2% of GDP (as Canada has, very hypocritically, agreed to do in NATO). Canada should follow suit.
China has made diplomatic overtures towards a China-Canada free trade deal. Such an agreement, even a far less than perfect one ~ as most “free trade” agreements are less than perfect ~ would bring undeniable benefits to Canada. China will play “hard ball,” and will demand that Canada not interfere, in any way, with its aggression in the South China Seas. Canada should negotiate harder, preserving its right to “do the right thing” on the world stage, even when it offends a great power like China, of the USA, for that matter. China needs oil; it would much rather buy oil from Canada, a safe, law abiding supplier, that fight with anyone for it.
Canada should, in other words, follow a good, solid, Conservative policy map: protecting and promoting our own vital interests; free trade, playing a leadership role in global affairs; and maintaining a strong enough military to project our power wherever and whenever necessary.