In late July, an Indian amphibious assault vessel 45 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam received a strange demand over the radio. The caller identified himself as “the Chinese Navy” and requested that the Indian ship explain its presence “in Chinese waters”. As a story in today’s FT says:
This latest example of China’s naval assertiveness has irked defence officials in India and Vietnam. China claims the South China Sea in its entirety, rejecting partial claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan over the resource-rich region.“Any navy in the world has full freedom to transit through these waters or high seas,” said one Indian official familiar with the encounter. “For any country to proclaim ownership or question the right to passage by any other nation is unacceptable.”
As the international media and public sleep, the Great Game continues unabated in the South China Sea. At a certain point, confrontation and rhetoric can escalate to real action. There are vast energy resources under the South China Sea, and as we discussed yesterday, China wants to control mainland Asia’s waters as well. When push comes to shove, China has already demonstrated it will not back down.But the real news in this story isn’t Chinese pushiness in the South China Sea. That is old news: dog bites man.The real news here is Indian pushiness in the South China Sea. As China mounts a diplomatic, economic and naval strategy to strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean, India is staking its claim as a regional player in East Asian waters.Welcome to the geopolitics of the 21st century.