In a bold display of opposition, Asia has protested China’s residence in the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines have joined forces in publicly denouncing China’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea, saying its reach has extended too far. The Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Tan Dung, and the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, made a joint statement after talks in Manila, saying that China has put all of Asia in an “extremely dangerous” situation by deploying an oil rig near a disputed island between Vietnam and China.
The rivaling claims come at a time when China has sought to assert its position in the South China Sea. Encompassing an area of about 1.4 million square miles, the South China Sea stretches around the area from Singapore to the Strait of Taiwan and makes up about one-third of the world’s shipping routes. There is also reason to believe the South China Sea is home to large amounts of gas and oil reserves, which puts the oceanic region at risk of competing nations who seek to dominate the popular and valuable trade route.
The Philippines have also been contending with China over another South China Sea reef, the Second Thomas Shoal, in which Chinese Coast Guard ships have tried blocking Filipino ships from transporting food supplies and military personnel to stationary Philippine vessels keeping watch over the disputed area.
With anti-China uprisings in Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere across much of Asia, observers fear that the dispute over territory in the South China Sea could spark the next armed conflict. According to reports, four Metallurgical Corp of China Ltd (MCC) workers were killed during protests in Vietnam while working on a construction project. In the ensuing riots, factories and industrial zones were set on fire by protesters. Chinese companies and industries were hit hard by riots, with thousands being evacuated, while hundreds have been injured or killed.
The growing resentment of Chinese encroachment in Asia has taken a new turn following the public denouncement by Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea oil rig. The two countries did not directly mention how they would deal with China’s plan of action in the region, but said that they would strengthen trade ties between each other, adding up to a two-way trade deal of $3 billion in just under two years. Vietnam and the Philippines went on to say that they are considering changing their relationship status to a “strategic partnership. “Such a “strategic partnership” would entail a close coordination of defense and security, as well as economics. Observers say such a partnership would be a direct swipe at China, who has worked tirelessly at asserting its position as the dominant strategic partner with most Asian countries.
China has maintained that the South China Sea has been a part of the country since ancient times, and any claim to the sea is in direct violation of their sovereignty. Nonetheless, the Asian opposition of China’s South China Sea oil rig is seen by many as the first step in what could be a long power struggle in the region.
By John Amaruso