Well, I’ll be…China seems to be admitting that its claimed territories in the South China Sea may, after all, be intended to serve the country well from a military defense stance. Recent satellite imagery sure seems to confirm that some of the structures clearly visible on all seven of its artificial islands strongly suggest a military purpose. Close-In Weapon Systems (CIWS…pronounced like “Sea Whiz”) seem to be present there, according to analysts.
These Chinese are whizzes at sea, too, persistently building their golly-gee-whiz-and-it’s-none-of-our-biz ‘artificial’ airbases with purpose and intent, all the while reassuring us that militarizing the area was the furthest thing from their minds. Nothing will seem artificial about it once the fighter jets sortie in and anchor there on a continuous basis. Now with the requisite artillery fully installed, one might surmise that defensive countermeasures had always been in the cards. Those darned Chinese, perpetually daring the West and its weaker Asian neighbors to blink. Obama seems to have been blinking hard for about eight years now.
But who can blame the People’s Republic? You build a little sand castle and nobody kicks your shovel and bucket over, you keep going. You dig and level and expand a little more and nobody does much else but yell and scream and holler. Big deal. You’re always going to get away with everything you can, I guess. Actually, the better question is Who’s willing to go up against them now? Taiwan? Forget about it. The Philippines? Noooo (Duterte loves China way more than he loves the U.S. now. He’s kicking us out so China has more room where we once leased. We’re giving up all the strategic spots, like Subic Bay, for instance, so the Chinese can park their stuff there). Brunei? Vietnam? You’re kidding, right? Big guns threatening to blow you out of the water you’re floating on have a way of quieting down the clamor over China claiming territory that was going to be theirs, anyway. Maybe everybody knew that and just pretended to be outraged. I mean, it’s not like the Chinese are going to walk away from their investments now.
Anyway, President Xi Jinping reassured us last year that there’s nothing to worry about with all this hoopla over the disputed territories. All that rhetoric came out one side of his mouth while progress progressed. Now, with all the emplacements…er, in place, his Asian political entourage can simply say (I’ll be paraphrasing here), “Well, what’s done is done. Nobody stopped us when they could have, so let’s everybody just play nice and roll with it.” Our military ships passing ever closer to what the Chinese now say is theirs is anything but “play nice” and should send a shiver up everybody’s spine.
Nobody needs to be reminded how much ocean-traversing commerce takes place in that area of the world, right? Here’s a crazy thought…what if the Chinese were planning on tightening control of the shipping lanes in the area? Surely I can’t be the first person to suggest such monkey business? It’s not totally “out there,” is it?
Just look at their engineering prowess with regard to those artificial fortifications (I think we can safely use that terminology now, yes? and if you aren’t impressed by the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, you are truly a tough sell). All that would be necessary now is the political will of the party to pull it off. Everybody seems willing to give China one stern warning after another regarding their bullying and aggressive tactics to stake out their claims. Yet look at how the Chinese have reacted. They blow us off, and they get away with it. They are clearly a big kid on the block now, and the world seems increasingly reticent about taking them on. And what do all big kids want to become? The biggest kid on the block. I dare say they’re getting closer to striking distance every day.
To build on that crazy thought just above, it’s probably not a well-known fact to most readers that the Chinese ‘virtually’ own the Panama Canal. Yes, the physical structure sits within the sovereign boundaries of Panama, and its daily operations are orchestrated by the Panamanians, but…
Well, here’s a really old name to throw out there-Chinese owned Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., a previous subsidiary of the Panama Ports Company, controlling ports at both ends of the canal. You probably heard this rumor for the first time several years ago like I did, but didn’t run it down to confirm it. Well, it’s true, and boy what a dirty deal it was. Li-Ka Shing, the billionaire owner of Hutchison Whampoa, is happy to do China’s bidding, and is doing so very well. In fact, you might be a little shocked when you discover just how many ports around the world are, in fact, Chinese-owned. The buying frenzy continues unabated. Here’s one of the later developments.
Even though China’s bid wasn’t nearly the most favorable, losing out to both American and Japanese bidders, something ran amuck during the tail end of the process, and (Surprise!) the Chinese unexpectedly emerged as the Victor. There were the predictable calls for investigations over allegations of corruption and bribery, but, well as we can see, the Chinese are running the show pretty smoothly down there, and will be for quite some time to come. Panama Law No. 5 mandates it. Are the Panamanian children still being mandated to learn Mandarin in school?
The story grows much more horrific and sordid from there, and the U.S. has said from the beginning that this development was a serious security concern that should not stand. I don’t know what we call it now, however, since the situation seems to be entrenched and intractable at the same time. It’s interesting to note how we vigorously applauded the canal’s success when we owned it, and when we were also in the country, militarily. Now, with Rodman and other installations long since shuttered and turned back over to Panama, the gravy days are done and over with.
The canal’s success is nothing to us, economically, or at least not from the same perspective. Stateside, we’re trying to increase our own competitiveness against the canal with our own beefed up ports, interstate, and rail systems (and probably especially so in response to the Chinese presence always looming down there).
We’ll turn a corner and put a quick third leg on this tripod of speculation (and that’s all this is, which makes for fun reading). The Chinese are investing multiple billions of dollars in and around the operating areas of the Suez Canal in a bilateral agreement between their own country and that of Egypt, citing economic and military benefits for all concerned. Note that this does not necessarily mean that China is ‘all in’ (always preferring to keep its options open), only that it stands to reap glorious rewards through investment in expansion and infrastructure projects. No no…China, ever the opportunist, already has its eye on the Northwest Passage, as do many others, lower shipping costs associated with a traverse through the ‘bergs all too tantalizing.
Trump is a wildcard in all of this, as he must naturally be, even on his best days (is it just me, or does it feel like we have already had four years of him and are just begging for another chance at the polls?) In the meantime, tensions in the South China Sea continue to grow, especially in light of this newly confirmed situation involving anti-missile, anti-aircraft capabilities in the Spratly / Paracel Islands, with quaint little names for the reefs like Fiery Cross and Mischief (the Chinese have different monikers, to be sure).
Here are some really obvious questions: Doesn’t a runway look pretty obvious, even from way up in the sky? And a hangar? It’s got a distinctive physical outline, too, doesn’t it? These structures are big enough to accommodate refueling and transport aircraft, the biggest of the big, not to mention virtually any type of fighter plane the Chinese have in their arsenal. We’ve seen this progress shaping up across a very long timeline now, yet nobody has done anything, and the military aircraft are all but landing soon.
In my humble opinion, everybody’s blinking…and the Chinese want to be the new Biggest Kid on the block. The reason Trump will be running DC is because he too does not pull any punches. So, what happens when a Trump White House (sorry, I mean a Trump Tower) and the PRC square off? Maybe Climate Change and Water Scarcity will be the least of our worries.
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South China Tea