With growing concerns as Trump begins to scrap trade agreements, China is starting to take aim at global dominance, and the South China Sea is key.
According to the early 16th-century economic principles of mercantilism, China is on a fast track to complete influence and control. Mercantilism is an economic theory that was primarily used by empires like Great Britain to influence and control global trade. The idea is that resources are finite, and if a nation focuses on exports more than imports, they will be successful. Britain chose to use its resources to advance naval dominance and heavily regulate or influence trade routes.
So what does Great Britain’s galleon flotillas have to do with China’s islands? Quite a lot actually.
China is living out a parallel to early Imperialistic Great Britain in the South China Sea. That region contains a trade route which encompasses 30% of all sea trade. As it prepares for a potential trade war with the United States, China’s beefing up the contested region with naval resources and more man-made islands. These islands are floating military bases, which allow rapid responses to threats and give China naval dominance.
When discussing China’s military expansionism, many analysts don’t take into account the fact that these islands and naval hubs are being built next to a multi-trillion dollar trade route. Just as the British utilized their massive fleets to influence trade, China may seek to control this route in the future.
These waters are, however, hotly contested under international treaties. According to the United Nations’ Exclusive Economic Zone, territorial waters can extend up to 200 miles offshore. The treaty treats these regions as sovereign land for each independent nation, but non-EEZ regions fall under UN Maritime Law.
Despite the clear wording of these treaties, China has disregarded this designation. It has also openly ignored the recent Hague tribunal rulings stating that China has violated international law. China’s been adopting the “Cabbage Strategy,” slowly influencing the Philippines’s ability to control its own EEZ region.
Other nations in the region are responding to this new threat. Newly elected Philippine leadership will likely take a hard-line stance against regional encroachment. Japan has also responded to China’s recent escalation, as it fears for its own security.
However, the question of U.S. involvement remains. Under President Trump’s guidance, the US has responded by deploying aircraft carrier groups to the region. With tensions at an all-time high, this region of the world may become center stage following the end of Operation Inherent Resolve against ISIS.
Whatever the final consensus becomes, it’s clear that president Trump will have his hands full. Let’s all hope for strong and level-headed leadership from the White House.