THE heat being generated outside China about its putative threat to commercial shipping in the South China Sea because of activity in the Spratly Islands is becoming tiresome. (Note: The term “sea lines of communication”, SLOC, is often used in these debates as a substitute for “commercial shipping”, though in normal parlance the two are not completely synonymous.) It is not clear who invented the “China SLOC threat” thesis but it does not stand close scrutiny.
Here are a few considerations that may stimulate a rethink.
First, China does not need the Spratly Islands to threaten north-bound shipping in the South China Sea. It could do so easily, if it wanted to, without controlling this disputed island group. China’s Southern Fleet is headquartered in Hainan, which sits in a commanding position opposite the Philippines in the area that overlooks the northern-most egress from this semi-enclosed sea…
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