Dispute over the South China Sea could put East Asia at war again
In response, the US and the Philippines announced they would further strengthen their alliance to increase their military capacity. The Philippines have already given the US military access to bases on Philippine soil, two decades after the closing of the last American bases there.
The news about Chinese building projects and the possible military consequences have not yet been commented on by the Chinese media or by Chinese officials, but it seems clear that the reinforcements are yet another move in a long, steady game of escalation between the US and China.
The disputed maritime area may not be worth the risks. The natural and artificial features in the disputed areas of the South China Sea are generally too small and too far away from the mainland to sustain life, and many of the oil and gas fields in the disputed areas could also be drained from areas that are not disputed – avoiding conflict at least for the time being.
But there are reasons to believe that this escalation of military tension could still be very dangerous. The buffers that have prevented wars in South-East Asia and North-East Asia – such as strong norms of sovereignty – seem weaker in the disputed maritime areas, and worries are growing that a military build up could surge out of control.
War and peace
In the three decades after World War II, East Asia saw more conflict fatalities than any region in the world, and it was host to the postwar era’s three deadliest military conflicts: the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the Chinese Civil War.
But since the 1970s, things have changed dramatically, and in terms of battle-related fatalities, East Asia has been more peaceful than Europe, the Americas or any other area in the world.
This is partly down to the collective East Asian impetus for development that took root in the 1970s. A country cannot develop its economy sustainably if it is busy fighting wars and destroying important markets in its neighbouring countries. But there’s another buffer against open conflict in East Asia: a strong respect for sovereignty, which has held sway in the area for decades.