Recently, the US Navy destroyer USS Mustin carried out a supposed “freedom of navigation” exercise in which it sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built by China in the South China Sea. This has sparked significant controversy between the two super powers in a region where conflict and political clashes are most definitely not something new.
This took place in the Mischief Reef, which China has had significant territorial disputes over in the past. Beijing is adamant that such actions of force are a threat to China and regional stability. This is especially as 12 nautical miles is recognized as a territorial limit by international standards. However, the United States and its allies has accused China of abusing its position in the region by building islands to claim land that is not technically theirs. This has also particularly involved the surrounding nations of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Such an action by the USS Mustin also occurred in the context of Donald Trump signing a Presidential agreement that will seek to restrict the trade of Chinese goods with a worth of up to $60 billion. China has since sent two naval ships of their own to intercept the American vessel. However, the United States Navy claims that it is following International Law and operates in this area on a regular basis, thus inciting confusion over why China would be bothered by their actions.
“We conduct routine and regular freedom of navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” stated Lieutenant Commander Schwegman, a spokesperson for the US Navy.
Up to $5 trillion worth of freight goes through this area of the world each year, as well as having significant oil reserves under the reefs that lie there. As a result, this area is very vulnerable to foreign conflict and ulterior motives, similar to the Middle East or even the Arctic regions. The South China sea (or ‘Spratley Islands’ as they are alternatively known as) is a global conflict hotspot for this very reason. There is a clear need to use further diplomacy and less conflict in such a region as it is under the guise of various superpowers such as China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Australia. If conflict were to occur here, there is little doubt that there would be significant consequences.
It is instances like these that beckon the question of how little conflict the world might have if natural resources were not such a vital asset to the world. Likewise, if the world was not so dependent on trade, perhaps all of this conflict predicated on economics and control of resources and income would cease to exist.
In the meantime, I think the South China Sea is the new major potential conflict hotspot in the world and should be cautiously handled. I believe this to be even more so than groups such as ISIS, as while that group is waning, countries such as China are currently rising and other superpowers, such as the US, are wanting to retaliate.