Should China harass Vietnam or South Korea

Between military strategy and oil reserves

As always, it depends on the perspective: one’s military maneuvers are the other’s disruptive maneuvers. In June, China complained bitterly that Vietnam had jointly held a military maneuver in the South China Sea with former archenemy the USA. North Korea is currently suing its South Korean neighbors' exercises with the US military. You have just come a little further with the Americans, why this "worst crisis in the history of the peninsula"? Because South Korea cannot be left alone, and because the North is not coming to its senses, Douglas Paal, head of the Washington Asia Institute, says: North Korea's strategic interest is to keep its nuclear weapons and to survive as a state. However, these are not America's goals
"We want them to give up their nuclear weapons and we don't care if they survive as an independent state. The problem: it is easier to get into a state of war on the Korean Peninsula than to keep peace, and we think it is important to to keep the peace. The aim is to replace military action with a diplomatic process, with talks. But our expectations are low: for now it will probably only be about keeping peace without solving the problem of the nuclear weapons program. "

South Korea and the United States will hold presidential elections next year, while China is facing a change at the top of the Communist Party. An extremely important year for the people living near the South China Sea. North Korea wants to influence the election result in its southern neighbor in its favor.

Taiwan hopes that it can continue to wire gun requests to Washington and get them fulfilled there. The US Congress still feels bound by a law on the military equipment of the island, but is increasingly focusing on China's legitimate interests.

And then there is Beijing's claim to roughly four-fifths of the vast body of water, including thousands of kilometers along the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. This summer, China was particularly aggressive, as the US media reported with concern:

"The Philippines accused China of harassing their oil exploration vessels in recent months, while Vietnam accused China of beating up its fishermen," the national radio station NPR reported in June. China has "acknowledged incidents, but stated that they took place in Chinese waters". "

Large oil and gas reserves have been suspected in the South China Sea since the 1970s, and energy-hungry China is more interested in securing access to them. But as much as some US companies are in the process of extracting oil and gas for the Chinese, they see their business with countries like Vietnam being hampered, explains Douglas Paal, former embassy representative in Indonesia and Taiwan and now head of the Asia Institute in Washington.

"" American and other international oil companies have been discouraged from signing contracts with the Vietnamese to exploit the deposits Vietnam claims. Otherwise, according to the Chinese, they would act against the interests of the companies. Just recently, they sent a surveillance ship into what was quite clearly Vietnamese waters and cut the measurement cables of a scouting boat that was underway on behalf of an oil and gas company. Quite a hostile act at sea, and something like that can quickly lead to warships being sent out to protect commercial enterprises. "

As a result, on July 22nd, the national radio station NPR reported:

"Tensions are mounting after the recent confrontations between Chinese and Vietnamese ships. Today China said it would not react with force. But it also urged other states to stay out of the escalating dispute."

That went in the direction of the USA, more precisely: in the direction of Hillary Clinton. The Foreign Minister had complained, first during her visit to China and then at the ASEAN meeting of the Southeast Asian nations in Bali, that the number of intimidation attempts, ramming and cutting of cables had increased:

"All of this will drive up costs for anyone trying to do business and traveling across the South China Sea, which is half of all world trade."

But there is still another reason for the USA to concentrate so heavily on this part of the Pacific Ocean and to assert itself against China here too. Officially, the White House is concerned with "freedom of navigation". China regularly replies that 90,000 merchant ships move freely every year - so no problem. Nowhere. But both sides know: it is not about merchant ships, but about American observation boats that feel monitored and hindered by China. No wonder: China is currently expanding and modernizing its naval and air forces. But, according to Douglas Paal:

"It is in the US's interest to know how and where China is using these capabilities. So we routinely monitor what China is doing. China would have preferred we not to know. We really want to know where they are so we can be able to deal with it in the event of a crisis. "

Which closes the circle. Because many observers equate the importance of the South China Sea with that of the Persian Gulf - in terms of the hoped-for oil and gas reserves and, as a result, its strategic military importance. US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Beijing this week. At the top of his list of topics: the trouble spots in the South China Sea, which, according to Asia expert Douglas Paal, "can get quite easily explosive" - ​​whether on the Korean peninsula, in Taiwan or on the coasts of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia.

"If China were to use its supremacy to enforce its claims emphatically, then not only the Southeast Asians would react, but the whole world. It would lead to even more tensions. The Chinese know that. WE want them above all Problems in the South China Sea are dealt with peacefully because we understand pretty well that it is much cheaper to keep calm and order than repeatedly having to intervene in specific conflicts. "