Over the past few weeks, armed vessels from the Philippines and China have faced off at the Scarborough Shoal. The consequences for the US if this occurs would be another undeclared war we would be dragged into; especially if Manila gets its way and obtains the coast guard vessel and F-16 fighter jets it recently requested. The Philippines is leading a push within the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a united stand over regional maritime disputes, including the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in one of the world’s busiest stretches of water.
Then there are other geopolitical concerns involved. The Philippines' Malampaya and Camago fields are estimated to hold 4.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and are in waters currently claimed by China. To top it off, as you read this, the US and the Philippines are engaged in annual joint military exercises that have involved 4,500 U.S. soldiers and 2,500 from the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced these intentions a week before the start of April, which he said showed US commitment to the strategically vital Asia-Pacific region. But such was in the work as early as last December when the Obama Administration signaled plans for the deployment of 2,500 Marines to Darwin, Australia. Darwin is also an intriguing choice since it is part of a growing energy hub where companies including Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) are planning to spend more than a $150 billion ($156 billion) to develop offshore natural gas fields.
Given all of the aforementioned, it may not be farfetched to suggest a possible future military conflict with China. Already the Chinese state media has advanced that President Barack Obama is doing all of this to distract from US economic woes, which is logical seeing that the Pentagon is placing more troops in the region than at any time since World War II, with military outpost surrounding all of China’s eastern border (the U.S. is sending 4,700 Marines to Guam, creating the largest deployment of troops to the Pacific since World War II). Meanwhile, China is rapidly expanding its naval power and increasing its presence in the South China Sea.
Moreover, an ironic observation is that China is also increasing its naval power and their new the refurbished Soviet aircraft carrier Varyag is almost fully operational. In concert with a new seaport being built by the Philippine government in the Spratly islands, in which such would be the first step in creating a mini-naval base for U.S. and Philippine troops, we could see more action sooner than later. In particular with Vietnam and the Philippines beginning to develop stronger military ties with the US.
Last year Chinese ships confronted a Philippine oil-exploration ship as well as cut a Vietnamese oil-exploration vessel’s survey cable. In response, Vietnam later conducted a live-fire naval drill in the area. China has also expressed its concerns over statements made by the US chief of naval operations, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, that China’s rising capability could limit US access to the South China Sea and that Washington would continue its efforts to ensure freedom of navigation there. The comments were interpreted by some observers as confirming that the US has sided with the ASEAN claimants.
The installation in the Spratly islands could also be used as a jumping-off point for counterterrorism operations in the Palawan region of the southern Philippines. The area is home to the Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terror groups with ties to al Qaeda. Some early reports from France suggest the new facility on Pagasa Island will be the new home for thousands of U.S. Marines scheduled to leave Okinawa within the next two years.
All of this sounds similar, a military buildup in the name of counter acting emotion in the name of terrorism; making enemies we don’t need, with a nation that hold the largest portion of U.S. debt, 68 cents for every dollar or about $10 trillion; and a currency battle that is still in the frying pan, all makes sense to me – our next war will probably in the South Pacific.