The Crimea annexation by Russia and the Ukraine's instability is another hot spot in the world which not only raised tension in Europe but it also worsened the US-Russia relation to the point that the US led NATO nations would do everything possible, barring declaring war, to stop Russia's military actions in Ukraine, Syria and the rest of Middle East. NATO member Turkey (whether voluntarily or being coerced) was involved at the front line by shooting down a Russian plane. Russia in the meantime increased her military effort in Syria to cut off the oil smuggling from the Middle East to the West via Turkey. The world crude oil price dropped to a new low at $34 a barrel making the gas pump in New York reaching a pleasant price of $2 per gallon. It is surprising that Middle East turmoil would lower gas pump price but it is not surprising at all that the low oil price was used by the Saudis and the West to reduce the income for oil producing Russia and the warring nations in the Middle East to cripple their ability to finance the wars.
The above world affairs of course have a great impact on the world economy particularly on the world's two largest economies, the United States and China. The US economy is just showing signs of recovering strength making the Federal Reserve to begin to turn up the interest rate while China is testing and collecting her results of shifting an export economy to a consumption driven economy. Both countries are vulnerable to the world affairs facing possibilities of recurring world recession or a slowing economic growth. And yet strangely, the two greatest nations are now facing off at the South China Sea in the midst of the above disastrous world situation? The world oil supply in the Middle East makes it a geopolitically important spot that Russia and the West would consider vital to their self-interest. The racial, religious and ideological differences in the Middle East (ME) make it a highly charged conflict zone that maintaining ME peace has been a complex problem the great powers unable to solve. But why is the South China Sea leaped on the world stage in 2015, lately, even eclipsing the Middle East and Eastern Europe crises?
As an American citizen I am puzzled by the South China Sea issue, in fact, I would consider it the biggest foreign affairs puzzle in 2015. I can understand the pivot to Asia strategy from world economy point of view; the action and the future is definitely shifting to Asia. What is difficult to understand is why the U.S. wants to make the South China Sea a hot spot? Especially puzzling, the excuse she used to bring her military presence to the South China Sea is "the freedom of navigation" in the sea lanes in the South China Sea. China claims the same objective since the sea lanes in the South China Sea controls 60% or more of her import and export trading merchandise. Safety and security of those sea lanes are more vital to China than to any other country, certainly more so than to the U.S. The hawkish US military strategists had used another excuse, "threatening the U.S. national security", as the reason for the U.S. to project her naval power to the South China Sea. The second excuse bears even less validity since what China has done on the small islands in the South China Sea cannot be an offensive threat to the United States, situated half a world from it.
Is the South China Sea friction just a diversion from the headaches the U.S. is facing in the Middle East and Eastern Europe? I hope not. One cannot cure a headache by adding a new headache, can you? To put this puzzle to perspective, let's analyze the South China Sea issue logically. Assuming China is an adversary enemy of the United States (so far there is no such evidence other than hypothetical assumption), China would put billions of dollars in building offensive weapons if her intention were to attack the United States, the powerful US Navy and numerous military bases. This is simply an illogical assumption without proof. It would be cheaper and faster to build carrier and submarines than constructing small islands to have any meaningful offensive power. Some would say that an unsinkable island is more powerful than a high-tech powered carrier. A small island is immobile, vulnerable to attacks by missiles and Air Force bombing to total destruction, a sitting duck situation. To maintain an uninhabited island to be useful in supporting maritime traffic, it needs runways and port infrastructure which depends on lengthy landfill and constant maintenance. To support maritime transportation, the island needs large oil storage facility to provide her internal use and support the passing ships. For people to live on the barren island, it is necessary to maintain the infrastructure and necessary utilities including, fresh water production, electricity generation, human living quarters, food production and healthcare and other facilities. All these facilities are vulnerable to offensive attack to total destruction in a flash.
We may ask why is China making land fill and the above-mentioned facilities? Don’t they know their vulnerability? My answer is that China probably would never think the freedom loving U.S. might oppose her effort in safeguarding the sea lanes in the South China Sea, never mind a fatal attack from the U.S. However, at the end of 2015, the U.S. increased the rhetoric and provocation about the South China Sea. I am afraid that both the U.S. and China are making a grave mistake here. Turning South China Sea into a hot spot, the U.S. has made her totally untrustworthy in maintaining a peaceful US-China relation. China would be awaken from an naive assumption that her goal of maintaining freedom of navigation was consistent with the same goal the U.S. wanting to achieve in the South China Sea. China for self-defense to protect her islands of sovereignty since a millennium ago would be forced to build military capabilities on the small islands and elsewhere to deal with the potential offensive attack from the U.S. and her allies, an arms race leading to war.
Foreign policies are never transparent to citizens. What Americans can do is to elect a capable leader who can understand the logic, historical facts and moral principles behind a complex situation rather than being blind-sighted by legacy rhetoric or war theory to put the U.S. in harm’s way unnecessarily. While we are wishing each other a peaceful and prosperous New Year, let's listen and watch the 2016 presidential candidates carefully and then cast our ballot prudently to elect a new peace-loving and capable President.