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Risk of war in the Spratlys

By ROMMEL BANLAOI

MANILA, Philippines—While the Philippines and the US were launching their naval exercises on June 28, 2011 in the waters of Sulu and Palawan, which are very close to the disputed Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, an Australian-based think-tank, the Lowy Institute, warned of a growing risk of war in the East China and

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South China Seas.

In its report entitled Crisis and Confidence: Major Powers and Maritime Security in Indo-Pacific Asia authored by Rory Medcalf, Raoul Heinrichs and Justin Jones, the Lowy Institute asserts that China’s growing military and rising resource needs from the disputed waters of East China and South China Seas have developed into a “risk-taking behavior” of Beijing.

This behavior makes the country in friction not only with the claimants in the Spratlys, namely Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam but also with other major powers, particularly with the United States, Japan and India.

The report underscores, “China’s frictions with the United States, Japan and India are likely to persist and intensify. As the number and tempo of incidents increases, so does the likelihood that an episode will escalate to armed confrontation, diplomatic crisis or possibly even

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conflict.”

The report also exclaims, “The sea lanes of Indo-Pacific Asia are becoming more crowded, contested and vulnerable to armed strife. Naval and

air forces are being strengthened amid shifting balances of economic and strategic weight. The changing deterrence and warfighting strategies of China, the United States and Japan involve expanded maritime patrolling and intrusive surveillance, bringing an uncertain mix of stabilising and destabilising effects.”

Coinciding with the release of this report is the press statement delivered a few days earlier by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei who says that China has a foreign policy that “sticks to the path of peaceful development, upholds the defense policy that is defensive in nature and commits itself to actively developing friendship and cooperation with countries around the world, especially neighboring countries.”

However, China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia, particularly the claimants in the Spratlys, strongly doubt the sincerity of Beijing to implement its policy of peaceful development considering the unprecedented rise of its military power that is believed to have already acquired a blue water capability.

China has scheduled sea trials of its first Aircraft Carrier on July 1. It is expected that this aircraft carrier will cruise the waters

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near the Spratlys.

Uneasy peace

The growing visibility of Chinese ships patrolling the contested waters of the Spratlys has, in fact, made its neighbors terribly uneasy.

This has prompted the US to reaffirm its commitment to defend its allies and partners in Asia amidst the risk of war in the region.

Apparently, the prospects of war and peace in the Spratlys largely depend now on the current and future behavior of China.

As the traditional “Middle Kingdom” in Asia, China is currently at the middle of various suspicions because of the many uncertainties associated with its military rise.

These uncertainties create security anxieties of its neighbors who will inevitably gang-up against China if China fails to assuage the fear of its neighbors.

Major power competitors like the US, Japan and India will take advantage of this situation to form a loose coalition of democratic states to check China’s growing might.

The fear of China will also encourage the Philippines and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to bandwagon with the US, Japan and India in order to hedge against the ascendant China.

There is no doubt that China has to do a lot of enormous explaining to effectively convince its neighbors that its growing military power and increasing visibility in the Spratlys will not pose risks of war.

Otherwise, China will create an international environment not conducive for its peaceful development.—Newsbreak

CATEGORY: Defense & Security, Foreign Affairs, Rommel Banlaoi
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