With most eyes on Ukraine-Russia and China-Japan battles, let’s shift the spotlight to the new global hotspot, an intensifying feud between China, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the South China Sea.

The Financial Times reports Chinese and Vietnamese Vessels Face Off in South China Sea.

Tensions in the South China Sea escalated dramatically on Wednesday after Vietnam said Chinese ships rammed its vessels near the Paracel Islands and the Philippines detained a Chinese fishing boat and crew.

China and Vietnam have traded rhetoric in recent days after China moved an oil rig near the disputed islands. But the situation turned into a confrontation on Wednesday when the Chinese vessels fired water cannons at Vietnamese ships.

Vietnam’s foreign ministry accused China of deliberating ramming its ships and said several sailors were injured in the clash.

China has territorial disputes with many neighbours, but particularly with Vietnam and the Philippines who have been the most willing to push back. On Wednesday, the Philippines detained a Chinese fishing vessel and crew that were reportedly fishing for endangered sea turtles.

The incidents come just weeks after US President Barack Obama toured Asia as part of his “pivot” to the region aimed at countering the rise of China. The US on Tuesday called the decision to move the oil rig “provocative and unhelpful”.

Earlier this week, Vietnam told China to stop the “illegal” drilling. But Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, told his counterpart in Hanoi on Tuesday that “Vietnamese harassment . . . has severely violated China’s sovereignty”.

The clashes on Wednesday appear to be the most serious between the countries in years. In 1974, China went to war with the Republic of Vietnam over the Paracels – called the Xisha in Chinese – and regained control over the islands. China is also embroiled in disputes with Manila over the Spratly Islands – which it calls the Nansha – and with Tokyo over contested islands in the East China Sea.

US Response

OK so what is the US going to do about this? Defend Vietnam? Give warships to Manila or the Philippines? Start WWIII by attacking China and Russia?

If your answer is to do something (other than have Obama yap his head off about red lines in the sand),  then be prepared to answer two more questions: At what expense? How are we going to pay for it?

The US public is tired of war actions and associated expenses, as it should be. We have too many problems at home to be engaged in virtually every dispute on the planet.

Isn’t it time to have a rational discussion on what it means to be the world’s policeman, including the true associated costs?


Reader Michael commented “The US hasn’t proposed ANY actions to stop the conflict between China, Vietnam, the Philippines or Japan (all of which have maritime territorial disputes) other than make vacuous comments to the effect of let’s all calm down now. There is no need to get in a big huff about US actions or policy when the US hasn’t actually done anything.”

Michael is wrong. The Guardian reports “Obama says US will defend Japan in island dispute with China

Here is a pertinent snip: “Our commitment to Japan’s security is absolute and article five [of the security treaty] covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including the Senkaku islands,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Abe.

The US is willing to make an “absolute commitment” to defend the Senkaku islands!? At what cost? Sure seems like a reasonable question.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock