Increased military exercises and sharp rhetoric have fueled fears of a superpower conflict in the disputed South China Sea, but at least one scientist is making waves with a different narrative – that fears of war are exaggerated.
John Quiggin, professor of economics at the University of Queensland, Australia, argues that an inflated evaluation of the strategic importance of the disputed waterway could raise tensions. He says these tensions hamper diplomacy and cooperation on more critical international concerns such as climate change.
He filed his case a recent article published by the Lowy Institute, an independent think tank in Australia that highlights what he described as “five myths about the South China Sea.”
The “myths” are: The South China Sea is a vital sailing route, potentially threatened by China; The South China Sea is home to immensely valuable resources; China has military and naval capabilities to invade Taiwan; Whereas it is essential to maintain free shipping operations in the South China Sea; and China is willing to fight a nuclear war to defend its demands in the South China Sea.
Quiggin spoke to the RFA from Brisbane, saying that globally, the most widespread myth about the South China Sea is that “it is a vital shipping route and China may in some way disrupt it.”
“The whole idea of the South China Sea as a vital sailing route is economically meaningless,” he said, adding: “It is certainly convenient to have the fastest and cheapest route, but there is always a long way to go.”
It is widely believed that up to a third of world trade is shipped through the South China Sea each year, valued at between $ 3 trillion and $ 5 trillion. The Strait of Malacca is the shortest and cheapest route between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
But there are other alternatives, and the financial cost of discontinuation will just be “a small amount,” Quiggin said, drawing a parallel to the closure of the Suez Canal in the mid-20s.th century due to Arab-Israeli wars.
Similarly, the professor downplayed the importance of oil and gas reserves in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, saying the quantities are “smaller than they appear.”
In his view, it is unlikely that significant amounts of oil and gas will ever be extracted as we approach the end of the era of carbon fuels, and “these resources are of more value as diplomatic bargaining chips” rather than commodities.
The article aroused interest, but also disagreement among experts and scientists in the South China Sea.
They included Greg Poling, a maritime expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC. He disagreed with the premise that the most likely casus belli, or action that provokes war, between the United States and China would be an attempt by China to take control of shipping routes and disputed territory in the South China Sea.
“The importance of shipping and resource disputes is actually overestimated, but that’s not the fundamental concern either,” Poling told RFA in an email.
“The most likely casus belli is a use of force by China against either US or allied ships / personnel during operations by the latter to exercise their rights, ”he added.
Western nations, including the United States, have intensified military exercises in the South China Sea in recent years. These nations have become more critical of China’s extensive sovereignty claims due to concerns that Beijing’s stance poses a threat to freedom of navigation.
‘Myth of Taiwan’
Quiggin further dismissed fears of what is widely considered the most serious hotspot for the conflict in the region – Taiwan.
He called the claim that Beijing plans to invade Taiwan soon, a “ridiculous idea” and “a seaborne invasion of Taiwan would be hugely more difficult than the D-Day landings”, as China simply does not have enough capacity, including landing craft. D-Day refers to the Allied seaborne landings in Normandy, France, during World War II.
Quiggin said, “while anyone who seriously looks at the prospect recognizes it, no one wants to admit it.”
“Taiwan does not want to say ‘we are safe, we do not need help’. China certainly will not admit that they can not invade Taiwan. So it suits everyone to go home with this myth,” Quiggin said.
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and promises to unite it with the mainland, if necessary by force. Chinese military activity in the Taiwan Strait has intensified in recent months, with hundreds of military aircraft marching into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in what observers see as an intimidation campaign.
The Australian scholar was also critical of what he called “the American doctrine of freedom of navigation operations” for naval ships in the South China Sea, saying it was more symbolic than substantive.
“It is again the United States that is not willing to admit a point that is essentially symbolic, because when you look at the balance of power, it will be very difficult to maintain the freedom to sail if China really decided to take military action. against it, “he said. .
“There are serious sources of conflict between China and the democratic world in important areas such as climate change, where there is an urgent need for cooperation. Focus on secondary and symbolic issues such as disputes over the South China Sea reduces the possibility of resolving more important conflicts,” he concluded. Quiggin.