Friday, 16 May 2014

The Pivot To Asia: China, Vietnam and the New Cold War.

'China's provocative decision to station a $1bn (£600m) deep-sea oil drilling rig in disputed waters 120 miles off Vietnam – well within Hanoi's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, in clear breach of a 2011 bilateral maritime pact and in defiance of regional and international agreements' ( Simon Tisdall, Vietnam's fury at China's expansionism can be traced to a troubled history, Guardian May 15 2014 )
The anti-Chinese riots across Vietnam reflect the upsurge in nationalism in the Far East created by the pathological quest for control over the oil and gas in the South China Sea and China's bid for regional economic and military hegemony in opposition to US designs to thwart these ambitions by .

China has been prepared to back up the CNOOC's drilling off the Paracel Islands with 80 ships to protect the oil rig on its journey against Vietnamese vessels which were rammed and blasted with water cannon. This follows on from tensions in May 2011 when PetroVietnam's oil exploration vessels were harassed.

With the race to control the energy rich South China Sea on, Washington has been moving ever closer to Vietnam and even Burma where since 2013 both the US and Britain have been seeking to strengthen military ties and strike lucrative arms deals. This is termed by some as "Investing in Strategic Alignment"

The US is not, as Simon Tisadall claims, 'wary of closer ties' with  Vietnam as it 'must first improve its human rights record'. This is only important in what is known as 'public diplomacy': where vital interests and checking Chinese energy ambitions are concerned human rights are not considered important.

On the contrary, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has lauded the '“tremendous potential” for bilateral defence cooperation, especially between the Vietnamese and US navies with US access to Cam Ranh Bay ,a deepwater port , needed to patrol the sea lanes essential for China's import of oil and gas.

In fact, it is Vietnam that is wary of allowing the US navy full access to its naval facilities. Washington has only refrained from going ahead with full on arms deals because Vietnam has feared that by giving the US Navy full military use of Vietnamese ports, the US could interfere in its domestic affairs.

Cam Ranh Bay was used by the US during the Vietnam War in its struggle against the Vietnamese communists. Hanoi has also had to consider that moving closer to Washington too quickly could precipitate a hostile reaction from its neighbour, an emerging global economic and military superpower.

Vietnam is regarded by Washington as an essential partner in the Asia-Pacific region because of the 'pivot to Asia' strategy. With shale oil giving the US more energy independence from the Middle East, Obama's administration has been able to devise a new strategy for holding China over the barrel as regards oil.

By exercising regional control over the South East China Sea, the US could also block the flow of energy supplies to Chinese economy, one that depends on oil imports from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Oman and Angola. This threat has been countered by the build up of China's navy and quest for oil security.

As Michael Klare puts it,'the Obama administration evidently aims to acquire the twenty-first century energy equivalent of twentieth-century nuclear blackmail'. With China, Brazil and India rapidly industrialising and the age of easy oil ending, the race is on to control what's left of global fossil fuels.

Klare has referred to a global New Cold War in which military ties and access to energy ( and blocking off the access by other Great Powers ) has triggered off an arms race in Asia that has led to greater tensions, a risk of naval clashes and 'inadvertent escalation', making the region a 'powder keg' waiting to explode.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, the US has attempted to encircle China by building up a neo-imperial alliance with Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore and Thailand to contain China and retain its global hegemony no matter the costs or the risks.

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