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Explaining the South China Sea Through the US History in the Caribbean

History teaches us why the Greeks often discussed controlling the Mediterranean 3,000 years ago, why the US took control of its “Mediterranean” from 1820 to 1910 and now we fully understand why China is taking control of its “Mediterranean” in the South China sea – please keep reading. 

The US saw the Caribbean as a blue water extension of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida – an extension of its landmass.  This concept of a land extension was explained in detail by the Dutch/American geopolitical expert of the 1930 and 40s who said that the Caribbean, now influenced by the United States, naturally allowed it to project power around the world. Nicholas Spykman made the observation that the Caribbean was part of the North American land mass, and this made it strategically important. The US fought wars in Cuba, Colombia, Nicaragua, El Salvador – not because they were part of South America but because they were an extension of the continent up north. 

So what about China? China looks at the South China Sea as the Asian Mediterranean and controlling the islands in this “Mediterranean” would allow China to focus its resource building on a blue water Navy. China would then have more control over the Indo-Pacific Region, with bases that allow it to neutralize Vietnam, the Philippines, and others putting the People`s Navy on the doorstep of Japan, South Korea, and Australia. 

China sees the South China Sea as an opportunity to grow and achieve goals, it sees its South China Sea or the Mediterranean just like the US saw the Caribbean as its Mediterranean. This control allows a superpower to focus on aircraft carriers to project power, in faraway lands. Think about it, carrier battle groups are not built to patrol littoral waters.

For decades after WWII there were questions about the true intentions of Communist China – would it be static power and mind its borders or would it become an expansionist power and spread its influence throughout Asia and beyond. But the answers started to come with China showing more interest in applying pressure to its neighbors. So in the 1980s and 90s, the true stance of Beijing started to come into focus. And of course, came to the forefront when it fired missiles at Taiwan prompting then-President Bill Clinton to send two aircraft carrier battle groups to the Strait if Taiwan – the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-1996. There were two previous altercations.

Now here is where the historic actions by the United Staes and China come into view and when studied closely, look very much alike. Bear in mind that when the US was a young country, it had expansionist ambitions, so it bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. While this seemed to be just a transaction it was part of a plan by the US to control its immediate surroundings so it could project power. This makes sense as the US tried to purchase Greenland and Iceland as well as exert its influence on Cuba, Colombia, and Panama. Controlling the Panama Canal, and Cuba to the south and Alaska and Greenland/Iceland in the north, combined with the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to build a barrier or fortress around the United States. China is looking at the success of the young United States and implementing a similar long-term strategy. By 2040, China will dominate the South China Sea and will have bases near Australia and Hawaii. 

This type of power projection has its advantages, and China, as well as Japan, Vietnam, and others know it. The Australians see it coming and are happy to have US ships and submarines visiting its bases for refueling. Even Vietnam, after a horrific war that ended in 1975, is allowing US ships to visit Vietnamese ports, and refuel.

So it is not surprising that China is expanding its sphere of influence and in its own reality, protecting its borders from intruders such as the US, Japan, and Vietnam. China wants to encircle its immediate neighbors and then has intentions to expand into the Indian and Pacific Oceans. We at Classiarius believe that in 20 years Japan will still be the Naval powerhouse that it is today, but China intends to challenge Tokyo and other neighbors by claiming islands in the South China Sea – who knows, they may be building bases near Hawaii in the next 10 years. And yes, placing aircraft carries there for, you guessed it, power projection. It`s coming. 

Team Classiarius 


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