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Mining & Energy

Frictions in The South China Sea: China’s Strategic Mistake


On the eastern side of the Eurasian continent, the Chinese economy is overheated and too-well integrated in the petrodollar system. Beijing, presently, cannot contemplate or afford to allocate any resources in a search for an alternative.

The Chinese economy is low-wage- and labour-intensive. Chinese revenues are heavily dependent on exports and Chinese reserves are predominantly a mix of the USD and US Treasury bonds. To sustain itself as a single socio-political and formidably performing economic entity, the People’s Republic requires more energy and less external dependency.

Domestically, the demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing. Having considered its external energy dependency, China seems to be turning to a military upgrade rather than investing in Green Tech alternatives. It has no time, plans or resources to do both at once.

Inattentive of a broader picture, Beijing (probably falsely) believes that lasting containment, especially in the South China Sea, is unbearable. At the same time, fossil-fuels are available in Africa, the Gulf, the South China Sea and other places. These are even cheaper with the help of warships and military.

In reality, the Chinese military buildup will only strengthen the existing bilateral security deals that neighbouring countries have, primarily with the US. It will also open up new ones. Nowadays in Asia, no-one wants to be a passive downloader.

Ultimately, it may create political and military isolation for China, as well as financial burden.  Consequently it would politically and financially justify more American military presence in the Asia-Pacific area, especially in the South China Sea. It could lead to the intensified demonisation of China in parts of the influential Western media. Hence, the Chinese grab for fossil fuels, or its military competition for naval control, is not a challenge, but rather a boost for the US Asia-Pacific posture.

Managing the contraction of its overseas projection and commitments – some would call it managing the decline of an empire – the US does not fail to note that nowadays half of the world’s merchant tonnage passes though the South China Sea. Therefore, the US will exploit any regional territorial dispute and other frictions to its own security benefit. This would include the cost sharing of its military presence by the local partners. It would also help maintain advantage on the maritime border of Asia that arches from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, Malacca, the South China Sea and up to the northwest–central Pacific.

A real challenge is to optimise the moral, political and financial costs in meeting the national strategic objectives. In this case, it would be an advantage for China to turn towards green technology, coupled with the firm buildup of the Asian multilateralism. Without agreement with the champions of multilateralism in Asia, which are Indonesia, India and Japan, there is no environment for China to seriously evolve and emerge as a formidable, lasting and trusted global leader.

Opting for either strategic choice will reverberate in the Asia–Pacific theatre. However, the messages are opposite to what China seems to expect: an assertive military alienates neighbours, whereas new technology attracts neighbours. Aditionally, armies conquer and spend, while technology builds and accumulates.

At this point, accelerated military build up in the Asia-Pacific theatre would be a mistake. With its present configuration, it is hard to imagine that anybody can outplay the US in the petro-security, petro-financial and petro-military global playground in the next few decades. Given the planetary petro-financial-tech-military alliances, this type of confrontation is already tilted in favour of the US, and would further benefit America and its closest allies.

The G-8 states have resources, infrastructure, tradition and know-how to advance the fundamental technological breakthroughs. Of the G-8 states, it is only Japan that may seriously consider a Green/Renewable-tech U-turn. Tokyo’s external energy dependencies are stark and long-lasting. After the recent nuclear trauma, Japan will need a few years to (psychologically and economically) absorb the shock, but it will learn a lesson.

Japan having such a huge economy and considerable demography, situated on a small land-mass which is repeatedly brutalised by devastating natural catastrophes, it might be that a decisive shift towards green energy is the only way to survive, revive, and eventually to emancipate. Japan is also dependent on yet another disruptive external influence, being Arab oil.

An important part of the US–Japan security treaty is the US energy supply lines security guarantee given to the post-WWII, demilitarised Tokyo. After the recent earthquake-tsunami-radiation armageddon, as well as witnessing the current Chinese military/naval noise, Japan will inevitably rethink and revisit its energy policy, as well as the composition of its primary energy mix.

Tokyo is well aware that the Asian geostrategic myopias are strong and lasting, as many Asian states are either locked up in their narrow regionalisms and/or entrenched in their economic egoisms. Japan is the only Asian country that has clearly learned from its own modern history, all about the limits of hard power projection and the strong repulsive forces that come in aftermath from the neighbours.

Their own pre-modern and modern history does not offer a similar experience to other two Asian heavyweights, China and India. Hopefully, that indicates the Far East as a probable zone of the Green-tech excellence and a place of attraction for many Asians in the decade to come.

Anis Bajrektarevic
Eurasia Review
 

About Craig Hill

General Manager at Craig Hill Training Services * Get an Australian diploma by studying in your own country * Get an Australian diploma using your overseas study and work experience * Diplomas can be used for work or study in Australia and other countries. * For more information go to www.craighill.net

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