I count myself a little bit focused on China and its economy, but perhaps that is because of my job as an analyst where I browse news and use a bit of thinking to understand the situation happening around the world and what would happen in the future. After all if you have a bit of an idea of what the future holds, you can adapt yourself much faster and be in a more advantageous position. Makes sense?
The topic recently that I see being a big issue is China becoming more assertively with its sovereignty over South China Sea, the huge body of water that is surrounded by Philippines, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. That means it has huge implications to these countries. Though there is much more at stake here. South China Sea is also an area of interest for Japan, both Koreas, the United States, and Australia. Besides being a major seafaring route, it is also an aviation route connecting Australasia and South-east Asia to North Asia. As a somewhat aviation enthusiast, I have travelled on a plane across this sea numerous times. The oil and gas issue on these waters are actually a small reason.
I started pondering about this question and had an interesting chat with a Chinese friend (someone who was born and raised in China). He mentions that China’s greatest rival or threat does not come from the United States, but rather from its neighbours Russia and Japan. It makes sense considering both nations are powerful and its adjacent neighbours. Then I started to make sense of why the South China Sea is such a strategic move by China.
Today’s wars are powered by natural resources, similar to the ancient times. That is a nation needs oil, metals, and grains to feed the fighter planes, the ammunition production and the army. Given the South China Sea is a vital sea lane that transports metal ores from Australia and oil from the Gulf States to Japan, then it starts to make sense. By controlling the sea, China can effectively blockade supplies being sent through this sea to choke off the enemy, thus winning any battle with the minimal casualties. Sure ships could bypass the sea altogether and re-route via the Philippines but that would add time and more resources. Sending in supplies via the Pacific is also another possibility but the Pacific Ocean is a vast ocean.
To the United States who also has military base in Guam, and a nation that has a contractual obligation to support Japan in the even of any skirmishes, this becomes an issue as well. However, considering the nationalist stance by the recent Japanese government, and the fact that Japan and the southern isles of Guam are essentially door-keepers to China’s route into the Pacific, there is the need for China to gain control of a strategic waypoint. I am pretty sure great strategies involve leaving a door open, and if your strategic rival/enemy are gate-keepers to one door, you better damn make sure you have control of the only other door.