Saturday, January 30, 2016

US destroyer sent to disputed islands claimed by China. AFP

The USS Curtis Wilber. US Navy Photo/AFP.

The United States has conducted another operation close to a disputed island claimed by China. AFP.  The guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilber sailed within 12 nautical miles of Triton Island in the Paracel Islands. No Chinese ships or aircraft were in the area at the time. The Island is also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam and the Navy says the operation was aimed at showing all three parties that the United States still enforces freedom of maritime travel. The United States officially takes no side in the dispute over Triton Island. 

My Comment:
There are a couple of reasons I wanted to post this story this morning. First of all that photo up there looks bad ass! That destroyer is making quite a hard turn and it looks like it was moving at quite a decent speed. I am guessing the crew was having quite a good time while that photo was being taken.

The other reason is that I like to remind people that these territorial disputes in the South China Sea have not been resolved. Indeed, they aren't the only ones as it seems every East Asian country is trying to enforce maritime claims on each other, and even disputing their land borders as well. It's not just China, it's Japan, both Korea's, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. And all those countries also hate each other to boot. It's not unreasonable to keep an eye on the area just to see if a conflict is possible.

Most of these islands are hardly worthy of the title. Some of them are being built up but most of them are just reefs or small, barren deserted islands that would be little use to anyone if it wasn't for the vast resources found in the water around them. It's not just oil, though that is a primary concern. After all, energy resources aren't quite as common as they are in other parts of the world. But it is also fishing rights as well. All the countries need to feed their people and these are some of the best fishing spots in the world.

Of course with over fishing being what it is, I wouldn't be surprised if these islands are depleted of fish in a generation or two. Which means that these territorial claims are even less worthwhile then they are. At best, if China was able to take all the territory they wanted it would only help them in the short term. The energy and other resources locked up in these islands and the water around them would probably last longer then the fish. Ugh, I sound like an environmentalist, but over fishing is a serious problem no matter what. 

Every-time one of these operations comes up the temptation is to talk about the potential for war. I don't think it is high at all. At least not in the short term. China and the other countries making claims obviously want to win these islands but I really don't think that anyone is really willing to risk warfare. Even the United States, which is very committed to keeping sea lanes open doesn't want to go to war. Right now they are just showing the flag. 

I guess there is always a chance that some kind of accident could happen in the South China Sea that could start a major war. Even if that does happen though, I think it is very unlikely. After all, Turkey shooting down a Russian jet in Syria didn't lead to a major conflict. Sure, tensions were raised to higher levels but war wasn't the first option. Instead Russia decided to impose sanctions on Turkey and punish them in other ways. I think a conflict in the South China Sea caused by an accident would probably end the same way. 

And there are not a whole lot of ways a conflict could start accidentally in the South China Sea. Naval vessels could harass each other but unless they hit each other I can't see them opening fire by mistake. An air collision is a bit more likely, but China and the United States are the main air powers in the area and I can't see them resorting to war over a small incident. 

I just don't see war happening in the South China Sea anytime soon. It's not the tinder box it is purported to be. This is, admittedly, a different stance then I have expressed before on this blog, but I think the Turkey and Russia incident changed my mind. They have had several incidents recently and I don't think anyone really considered war. Even though Turkey's actions resulted in a death. If those two countries could avoid war I think the chances are that everyone involved in the various Asian border disputes can do the same thing.  

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