Continuing our story about the dispute over the South China Sea involving, on the one side, China; and on the other – the U.S. and its allies. We left off with the thought that the major geo-political prize is control over the Strait of Malacca; this is the main thoroughfare of naval trade in that region. The major part of Chinese imports-exports sails through that strait. Major energy resources from Africa and the Middle East sail through that strait. He who controls the naval shipping lanes, controls the world. Especially in time of war.
Analyst Petr Akopov goes on to write, that China understands these geo-political realities quite well, and has a strategic plan to resurrect the old Silk Road trade routes of medieval times. The Silk Road is mainly a land route, but requires a series of ports as part of its infrastructure. China is busy building ports in Pakistan. The dispute between China and Japan over a handful of islands in the South China Sea, is all part of this master chess game. Japan, along with other rival nations of China, is watching intently how this will all turn out; and hoping that the U.S. will be able to counter Chinese ambitions to control these naval lanes.
Egged on by their allies, the U.S. is raising the stakes. Threatening China with “consequences” for their actions, the Americans proceeded with a series of naval exercises in the South China Sea. Australia and New Zealand participated, along with a few token Japanese sailors.
What is Russian reaction to these development? Russia expresses solidarity with China. With the caveat that Russia does not (formally) take sides in the Spratly Islands dispute, but merely points out that “external forces” (i.e., the U.S.) should not intervene in a dispute between immediate neighbors. In essence, though, Russia would love nothing better than to see China shove the Americans out of the South China Sea. An American spanking here would meet Russian long-term geopolitical plans and is in Russia’s national interest. The only caveat here is that Russia is also friends with Vietnam and does not wish to see a quarrel between its two friends, Vietnam and China. To this point, Russia hopes that the government in Hanoi will not perceive the Han-ization of the South China Sea as a threat to Vietnam. Especially if that would drive Vietnam into the arms of the Americans.
Vietnam’s beef against China goes back a long ways, and there is not time to go into that here. Akopov makes a brief mention of the Paracel Islands which is a sore point between the two nations. According to wiki, this archipelago has been in dispute since the beginning of the 20th century. China claims these islands, which they call Xisha. France took the islands away from China and incorporated them into their Indo-China colonial empire. (Sino-French war of 1884-85.) This set the foundation for America’s puppet, South Vietnam to claim the islands. Even after the defeat of that puppet government at the hands of the Vietnamese Communists; even after the expulsion of the American imperialists from their soil, the two erstwhile Communist allies (Vietnam and China) continued to bicker over several issues, including the Paracels. It’s like a wound that won’t heal. Bottom line, though: even with the help of its former enemy, the U.S., Vietnam has zero chance of returning the Paracels or of increasing its presence on the Spratly Islands.
What Vietnam mostly needs now is a hug, some reassurance and a feeling of safety in its own space. Here is where Russia can help. Because Russia, being good friends with both countries, can act as an impartial go-between and help to soothe tensions in these territorial disputes. Russia’s main idea in this, is that the region will be a whole lot calmer and safer without the Americans there to stir things up. Therefore it is best for everybody in the long run, including Vietnam, to support China against the U.S. And also because the expansion of Chinese influence is a legitimate, and inevitable, historical process, whether one likes it or not.
Crimea Led The Russian Fleet Into The South China Sea
And in his final paragraph, Akopov for the first time mentions the word “Crimea”, which was, enigmatically, in the headline of this piece. What does Crimea have to do with the South China Sea?
Well, as the English say, “One good turn deserves another.” Fact is, that China was one of the few nations of the world which backed Russia against Ukraine when the Crimean Autonomy voted to re-integrate with the Russian motherland. And Russia owes China for that. Even though Russia cannot officially take China’s side, what Russia can, and did, do was to plan joint naval exercises with China in the South China Sea. This symbolic gesture, as the Chinese would say, speaks more than a thousand words.