These past few years, the United States Navy has frequently sailed through the South China Sea. But, this isn’t a normal occurrence. China, our economic partner and nemesis, has laid claim to this sea, and in an act of defiance, we have ordered our ships to pass through it, a move I completely disagree with.
Centuries ago, Chinese fishermen used to fish these waters and ever since taking power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party has claimed the entirety of the sea under the premise that the South China Sea was “historic waters.” Controlling the sea and its assets (gas, oil, fish, etc) would not only generate trillions of dollars, it would also provide the opportunity to “cut off” rivals from traveling through it, thus allowing China to manipulate the global economy. Because of this, other countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, and even little Brunei, have claimed portions of the sea.
However, it is China’s involvement in the region that makes it the topic of this discussion. No other country has killed valuable sea life by dumping kilotons of sand onto rocks and reefs that barely surface the water. No other country has installed runways and missile systems on these man-made islands. Such drastic measures have drawn America's strong objection from half-a-world away. It is this objection that creates the potential for war.
Not only are we conducting freedom of navigation patrols in the sea, we are also making weapons deals with China’s geopolitical enemies. This course of action does absolutely nothing but provoke China. We absolutely have the right to conduct such patrols and make deals with still-communist nations like Vietnam, but we shouldn’t be questioning the legality or morality of our actions. We should be asking: Why? Why throw ourselves into this conflict so far away?
There are two options for the US right now: We can concede the sea to China and pull out, or we go to war over it with them. Our politicians definitely seem to favor the latter. Our Chief of Naval Operations has stated that the US would in no way cease its patrols or back down. Right now, America isn’t at war with China, but we have intervened with China’s goals. And as seen in previous historical events, this could end badly.
We intervened in Somalia’s Civil War, through the War on Terror, and during the Iran Hostage crisis, and all of these interventions ended in disaster. In the most recent intervention (War on Terror), despite the prices we paid (50,000+ casualties and $1.6 trillion), radical Islam (and radical Christianity is such a thing too) is still widespread in the Middle East where ISIS and other groups threaten our national security today. One also can’t forget that Communism still remains in North Korea and Vietnam even after their respective wars with the US. Intervention just doesn’t work out for us. And with China being far stronger opponents than those from the previously mentioned conflicts, the odds of intervention actually working are close to none. Nevertheless, America has decided to intervene, and so with these two superpowers competing for control, we can only hope that things don’t escalate to a World War III.
On July 12, 2016, an arbitral tribunal ruled that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China’s claim to the area covered by the nine-dash line in the South China Sea, an outline of the majority of the sea, was invalid. Although this ruling was undermined in the news by the presidential campaigns and the Dallas shooting, it could have a far greater significance than one might think as China slammed this ruling and instead claimed that they were “not afraid to fight a war with the US.” If this were to occur, we Americans, would have a far scarier future than one with a Donald or a Hillary as president. No matter what America does, China will remain steadfast in their efforts. Only a week after the tribunal’s ruling, the Chinese military sectioned off part of the sea for military exercises. China would not get themselves fully involved in this if they didn’t know the potential consequences, consequences that could involve a full-on war.
China’s claims are completely ridiculous and even unfounded, but promoting our hegemony isn’t the thing to do in this situation. We don’t even have the right to throw the rulebook at China. We are one of the few nations that has refused to ratify UNCLOS, something even China has done. Our actions are wholly hypocritical. America can’t push China around anymore. We have already deployed warships and attempting to further “punish” China through sanctions would prove disastrous to our economy as they hold much of our $19.3 trillion national debt. We, as Americans, have more important things to focus on such as our debt crisis, gun rights, and crime rates. America is at a crossroads right now and to retain our title as the superpower of this planet, we have to make the best choices for the benefit of the American people and economy. The current Sino-US relationship is already unstable, and if we continue to follow the same road, I wouldn’t be surprised if those military exercises in the South China Sea turned into war drills.