Corporates Vie for Power Over South China Sea

By N. Gunasekaran

Relatively speaking, the Southeast Asian countries, in recent years, maintained peace while the Southwestern region was affected by war and terrorist activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, mounting geopolitical tensions over the disputed waters of the South China Sea have posed a grave danger to the stability and peace in the Southeast Asia. The South China Sea — the second-most-used sea lane in the world — with enormous mineral, oil, natural gas and fishing resources has become the center of disputes and conflicts.

Major players claiming and competing for rights over the sea are China, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and Singapore. And, of course, the US is the dominant player.

China was involved in territorial disputes in the resource-rich Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

Of course, natural resources are required for surrounding states to develop their economies. But the ongoing rhetorical confrontation between the countries seems to originate from the desire to dominate the resource-rich areas so as to cater to the profit-needs of multinational corporations.

First of all, these regional disputes, being sovereignty-related issues, the interference of a third-party country is unwarranted. There are no genuine grounds for the US claim, expressed in its July 2010 declaration, that the South China Sea represented an American “national interest.” The US does not belong to this region geopolitically. Its claim of “American national interest” is nothing but corporate interest to exploit energy and other natural resources in this region. Also,the US maneuverings to contain China in this region through various means, including the continued military support to countries like Taiwan and South-Korea, have been creating an atmosphere of mistrust and rivalry between the nations and destabilizing the regional peace.

The joint oil exploration agreement between India and Vietnam has caused furor in the region. They initiated their exploration despite China’s vocal objections. China denounced the joint deal as an infringement on Chinese sovereignty. This issue has to be settled across the table.

Many countries in the Southeastern region, although having massive economic deals with China, often engage in political and military machinations against China, at the instigation of the US.

For instance, within three weeks, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III shifted his allegiances.

During his visit to China, Aquino stressed his desire for peaceful dialogue over territorial disputes. After his visit to Washington, which was arranged by the Obama administration immediately after his visit to China, the Philippines has engaged itself to involve more regional players like Japan to collectively check China. The US administration has made an arrangement for the Philippines to purchase two Hamilton-class naval cutters and several helicopters.

From the US perception, India is an effective counterweight to China. The nuclear cooperation agreement between India and the US, and the growing US-India strategic military cooperation have all contributed to the strained relationships with India’s neighbors, especially, with China. India’s mainstream corporate media,which are largely toeing the American policy of containment of China, have always been creating aspersions to the goal of maintaining good neighborly relations with China. Recently, Indian media widely reported about a think-tank’s prediction that China would launch a “limited war” with India to “to teach India a lesson.” The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh openly rubbished the idea that India and China were inevitably going to be rivals. The strengthening of Sino-Indian relationships is indispensable not only to establish peace in South Asia, but also to bring prosperity in the domestic economies of both countries.

China has become the largest trading and investment partner of India with both of their two-way trade reaching to $60 billion in 2010. And, it’s now expected to reach $100 billion. India has to distance itself from the US machinations of making India to become a staunch adversary to rising China. The Chinese and Indian economies, which were the same size in 1990, have been growing speedily.

However, China’s economy is more than three times as large as India’s. In terms of human development, China is well ahead of India. India pursued the neoliberal model which was mainly beneficial to corporate monopoly houses. Anyway, both countries have the onerous task of uplifting the poorer sections in their own countries. So the confrontation between them would be harmful to the working people in both countries.

The Southeast Asian region itself consists of the poorest people in the world,with more than a half of population living on less than $1 a day. The people in the region actually don’t want any confrontation with neighboring countries. But they are badly need of adequate food, safe drinking water and medicines.

The countries of Southeast Asia account for nearly 10% of world population and stability in this region is essential for global peace. But the concerned Asian nations have to resolve their conflicts through bilateral negotiations and through utilizing institutions like the Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN). Conflict-free Southeast Asia has the potential of accelerating the process of creating a multipolar world, replacing the old unipolar world order headed by corporate American power.

N. Gunasekaran is a political activist based in Chennai, India.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2011

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