Friday, November 11, 2011

8 reasons why there won't be a war over the South China Sea

A quick one. This summer, an Indian warship sailing between two Vietnamese ports received a radio call warning it about crossing Chinese waters.

Numerous articles since then have speculated about a confrontation between India and China in the South China sea. Here's why I think this won't happen.

1. Virtually all of China’s energy imports go past the very countries it is antagonising in South China Sea. Beijing needs these sea lanes open and conflict-free. UPDATE - there's also a phenomenal amount of trade going through here: $5.3 trillion worth. That's 80% of the combined GDPs of India & China. Imagine the disaster if that much of the world's "real economy" goes offline.

2. The US also has numerous trade routes running through the region. On more than one occasion, Washington DC has called freedom of navigation in the South China Sea a "vital interest". Let's not forget, the numerous defence treaties of the US in the region. Then there's this more-recent development.

3. A part of China's unfettered rise depends on how much (or little) energy, time & money it expends on conflict. That is the heart of its 'Peaceful Rise' slogan. The recent beating of war drums - particularly from party mouthpiece Global Times - has alarmed every country from the Philippines to Vietnam, Japan & Malaysia & China is acutely aware of this.

4. China’s claims in these waters are tenuous, at best. Many of the islands it lays claim so it can expand its exclusive economic zone are rocks that get covered during high-tide.

6. Beijing could, at worst, harass ONGC's exploration missions using 'fishermen' (really PLA-Navy sailors in disguise). Off the record, Indian officials say their security concerns are "well taken care of".  by Vietnam. It should be remembered, Vietnam has fought a war with China and won (just about).

7. If there is more-than-unreasonable "harassment", Vietnam can activate its hot line with China to thwart emergencies.

8. Finally, a former Naval officer has confirmed to me that India will soon initiate a new round of Track II dialogue on this matter; one that he is part of. That should help to find unconventional solutions, if received well by all parties.

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