China’s challenges in the South China Sea

The CFR’s report seems accurate enough, China has not signed up to become a “responsible stakeholder”, it doesn’t share the risk assessments made by the west. Instead it is building islands over a thousand kilometers from its southernmost point and claiming these as sovereign territory, upsetting states as far away as Malaysia and Brunei on the island of Borneo and as vital to its security as Vietnam.

It’s impossible to see a unified Chinese drive though. A “silk railroad” coursing to Europe through some of the most geopolitically volatile regions of the planet will be far more expensive for transport than bulk ocean freight. It’ll be far slower than air transport. It may have a niche but one that does not justify the astronomical investments necessary. So even if implemented it’ll be a fantastic waste of resources. A connection to Karachi makes sense though, perhaps one to Iran, but not much further.

Second, alienating Vietnam and Malaysia the way China is doing now is a bad idea. China absolutely needs free passage past most of the 3000km of Vietnamese shoreline and through the Malacca straight. Why would these states continue to help China when China endangers their security and questions their borders? Plus with the US being the only global naval power it is a bad idea anyway to challenge it as long as China fully and fundamentally depends on the goodwill of the US navy for its shipping and with it, for its economic survival.

It only computes if China is divided into two camps, one that wants to confront the US and doesn’t care about or appreciates economic cost, economic growth and the international order. The other which wants to continue economic growth and the necessity for good trade relations that goes with it.

There seem to be hawks and doves that can’t or don’t want to talk each other’s language.