Tension and outright fear is once again spreading in Asia. While most of the world is watching Russia, worrying about Putin’s designs on Ukraine, China is making the most of the opportunity – in what Beijing calls the South China Sea.
In the past week, China put a gigantic oil rig deep into Vietnamese territory along with some 80 vessels, including war ships.
As in previous incidents, the Vietnamese navy responded with moderate attempts of intervention, leading to confrontation – so far limited to material damage and a dozen wounded sailors.
China’s expansionist ambitions at the cost of it’s neighbors are nothing new. For decades, small scale armed confrontations at sea have taken place, especially between China and Vietnam. The Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have also made their protests against Beijing on numerous occasions. Several years ago the BBC published this very educational map, which highlights the stakes:
In recent years China has also shown its ambitions in other ways. Two years ago, China issued a new passport design with a map, which shows a China, slightly enlarged with a pieces of present Vietnam as well as India. Next followed a territorial dispute with Japan, which included ‘spontaneous mob attacks’ against Japanese companies in China due to ‘public anger’.
It remains to be seen, if the present oil rig incident is the beginning of an even more aggressive policy against China’s smaller neighbors. In capitals across East Asia, they have all taken note of the recent 10% increase in China’s defense budget, and the justification stated bluntly in the People’s Congress: “China needs to increase its capacity to manage regional conflicts.”
A new China Syndrome is certainly spreading in the region, while Putin’s Russia enjoys the undivided attention of the entire Western hemisphere.