This is the first of two articles, each with some Canadian flavour, today about something upon which I have not commented for some months, but two article caught my eyes:
- First, the Australian Lowy Institute reports that “China challenged Australian warships in the course of transiting the South China Sea, on their way from Subic Bay in the Philippines to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam;” and
- Second, the South China Morning Post says that Chinese “researchers are proposing a new boundary in the South China Sea that they say will help the study of natural science while potentially adding weight to China’s claims over the disputed waters, according to a senior scientist involved in the government-funded project … [and] … A precise continuous line will split the Gulf of Tonkin between China and Vietnam, go south into waters claimed by Malaysia, take a U-turn to the north along the west coast of the Philippines and finish at the southeast of Taiwan.“
Both stories have many qualifications but they both point to the fact that China’s assertion of sovereignty over the various islands, rocks and shoals in the South China Sea and, therefore, its sovereignty over one of the world’s more vital trade route “choke points” continues, unabated by e.g. North Korean peace manoeuvres or a Sino-American trade war. China is acting the bully in this issue and it is likely to get away with it.
Prime Minister Modi is set to visit China to have an “informal summit” (whatever that means) with Paramount Leader Xi Jinping aimed at reducing tensions. Both China and India want fewer border clashes and better trading relationships. The Chinese want India to endorse its Belt and Road initiative and to recognize, or, at least, not dispute China’s claims to the disputed islands in the South China Seas. India, for its part, wants China to provide less support to Pakistan. But China and India might find common ground in their distaste for President Trump’s aggressive protectionism which is aimed at both of them.
Left on the outside, looking in, is Japan which has the most to fear from Chinese control of the oil-tanker traffic through the South China Seas. Japan is also America’s main “base” in East Asia … there is some speculation that the US might be willing, indeed even anxious to withdraw (at least) ground forces from South Korea. But there is no indication that the US is prepared (or strategically able) to withdraw naval and air forces from Japan and its islands.
IF China can face down Asian, including Australian opposition to its take-over of the South China Seas and IF Kim and Trump can agree to at least some reduction of US forces in Korea then China’s position as THE hegemon in East Asia will be unassailable … America will remain a great and influential regional presence and partner but it, east Asia, will lie in China’s sphere of influence.
There is not much for Canada to do … except, perhaps, to be more like Australia and to share some, small part of the burden of asserting freedom of navigation in the South China Seas by sending a Canadian warship through on periodic peaceful transits.’ It will annoy China but, as the next article points out that, that horse has already left the stable, and it might help to reassure Canada’s TPP partners in the region (Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam) that Canada is a reliable trading partner and friend. Using navies for diplomacy has a long and honourable history.