Saturday, 31 May 2014

The Pivot to Asia: Energy Geopolitics and Containing China.

"In recent months, China has undertaken destabilising, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea....All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or, to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that has benefited millions of people throughout the Asia-Pacific, and billions of people around the world"-Chuck Hagel, United States Secretary of Defense
The largest risk to the Asia Pacific region and its security has come about through Washington's pursuit of the Pivot To Asia strategy that started in 2010 and is ultimately aimed at naval dominance of the vital sea routes along which tankers delivering oil to China from the Middle East and Africa.

As the the US has declined as the world's predominant economy relative to China as a consequence of the financial crash of 2008 and two hugely expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has refocused the aim of maintaining global military hegemony to Asia.

After 2011, Obama and Panetta made plain their intent to bolster naval cooperation and increase arms supplies of US military hardware to the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and other long standing allies as well as to bring in Myanmar and Vietnam as part of a plan to contain China.

Beijing has become increasingly worried about the plan to encircle China with a ring of regional alliances that threaten to cut of its access to strategically vital raw materials and energy, one reason both China and the US have continued to vie for influence even in Afghanistan.

One unmentionable geostrategic aim of the prolonged presence of US troops in Afghanistan was the construction of the TAPI pipeline, one aimed at uniting Pakistan and India together with a pro-US regime in Kabul in a community of economic interest that would check China's inroads into Central Asia.

Energy geopolitics is the predominant factor behind global power politics in the 21st century. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a unilateral move to control the second largest oil reserves in the world and hem in Iran to the east and to reduce dependence on Saudi Arabia in the days before US shale oil was tapped.

So a reason for China's unilateral thrust to claim the oil off the Paracel Islands is to secure the oil before the US is in the commanding position to threaten its oil supplies. Vietnam, at present, is not a partner of the US but has started to move towards Washington and the prospect of closer naval cooperation.

The New Great Game between the US and China for influence and control over resources has dangerous overtones of the Cold War and the fact that energy hungry Asia Pacific powers are quarrelling over essential supplies of oil in the South China Sea has led to rising nationalism and an arms race.

As regional rival powers such as China and Vietnam modernise their economies at breakneck speed, the tendency for one party regimes is to use nationalism as a means of diverting domestic discontent onto enemies that threaten their access to resources such as oil vital to drive industrialisation and transport.

A crisis over claims over the Spratley Islands in the South China Sea could well trigger off the potential for a US-China clash as the US is treaty bound to support the Philippines is attacked by a third party. This would cause havoc to the global economy as the centre of economic gravity lies in the Asia Pacific region.

The same potential for conflict exists between China and Japan over the what they respectively call the Diaoyus or the Senkakus islands which are disputed in the East China Sea and contain huge reserves of oil off their shores in maritime waters patrolled by both their navies.

It is ultimately the US that is responsible for ratcheting up the tensions by its attempt to hold on to its global dominance by pursuing a geostrategy of holding the Chinese economy to ransom through what Michael Klare terms the twenty-first century energy equivalent of twentieth-century nuclear blackmail'.

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