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China To India: Get Out of Our Sea

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.

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  • carvaka

    i am sure you have noticed that india may have started a process to have a naval base in vietnam.

  • Stephen Clark

    That India is asserting itself in and around southeast Asia is no surprise given its longstanding trade and cultural ties to the region which are equal to or greater than those of China: Jayavarman VII, for example, is considered by many the greatest of the Khmer kings. Nor should it be surprising that southeast Asian nations use a long history of various ties to advance their own interests; one might even say that this characterizes much of that region’s history for the better part of a thousand years.

  • Luke Lea

    Without knowing a thing about the two countries’ forces I will bet on China. When that 800 lbs. gorilla comes out of its cage . . .

  • Maddog

    And I on India. China’s demographics doom it to a painful death long before it becomes wealthy. Its internal economy is problematic and sailing towards troubling shoals.

    India is not free and clear but its far stronger ties to the Anglosphere provide a much more likely route to prosperity.

    It is interesting that China a country which can barely project its power half way to Taiwan is rattling its sabers in this way. But the great struggle in the east will be between China and India and it seems China is unwilling to allow any perceived Indian slight go unanswered.

    Welcome to the 21st Century indeed!

    Mark Sherman

  • Tom Kinney


    Yet another thing to watch for in our increasingly fun-packed future.

  • peter38a

    Which country absolutely must have free transit in the South China Sea? With a majority of her energy needs coming through this waterway and her projected needs that might be sated by what lies on the seabed that country would be China.

    Protecting commerce requires a strong surface presence. What country in the region wants to match what the Chinese can eventually put to sea, well, I would think none. But consider this. In the case of some high level of confrontation the job of the surrounding (and US by the way) nations is not to commit to a slugging match but to interdict–such a capability thereof would probably cause the Chinese to do more calculating than a crawdad three days from water before acting too precipitously. Going on memory, I believe the Germans began WWII with only 17 submarines.

    More, the next generation of war machines will be RPVs. Ask yourself who has designed, fielded, flown, logistically supported and fought a couple of generations of these machines.

  • Alan Kellogg

    China may have the largest military in the region, but Vietnam and India are no slackers. And let us not forget Japan and the Philipines

  • John

    The problem with India is that they never had any serious Foreign Policy.The Ministers are low calibered and do not know much about world events, and they dictate the Foreign Policy as per their perception

  • Luke Lea

    India has superior institutions but China has a big advantage in human capital. I guess we are going to find out which is the more important.

  • Luke Lea

    In the doctor’s office so couldn’t complete that comment.

    Historically India has been a bystander in so far as the mainland of Asia is concerned. The Himilaya’s and all. If China goes north, as I suspect she will, India’s role will be minimum — unless she supplies ground troops in defense of Europe. As for all the Stans, if China wants to try to rule them I say let them try. I certainly don’t want my children dying to stop them. Does anybody else on this blog?

  • Max LeCompte

    A modest suggestion, let’s all stop referring to it as the ‘South China Sea’.

    It might help.

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