Global arms race escalates as sabres rattle in South China Sea, by Ambrose Pritchard-Evans.
The South China Sea has become the most dangerous fault-line in the world. Beijing and Washington are on a collision course over these contested waters, the shipping lane for 60pc of global trade.
As expected, the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled that China has no “historic title” to areas of this sea stretching all the way to the ‘nine dash line’ – deep into the territorial waters of a ring of South East Asian states.
Equally expected, Beijing has dismissed the verdict with scorn, accusing the tribunal of “shamelessly abusing its authority”. The state media said the country “must be prepared for any military confrontation” with the US, and must not flinch from war if provoked.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says China spent $215bn on defence last year, a fivefold increase since 2000, and more than the whole of the European Union combined. It is developing indigenous aircraft carriers. US experts say its “Two-Ocean Strategy” implies a fleet of five or six aircraft carrier battle groups to project global power.
Japan has upgraded its once invisible Self-Defence Force to a full-fledged fighting machine with a humming new headquarters and an air of determined alertness. The country has been increasing military spending for the last four years, especially under its nationalist leader Shinzo Abe, commissioning its largest warship since the Second World War, an 800-ft DDH-class helicopter carrier.
What if China and Russia stir up military trouble at the same time?
But the South China Sea is where matters are coming to a head. The Pentagon has made it clear that any move by Beijing to weaponize the Scarborough Shoal off the Philippines would be a step too far, leading to military response.
The great worry is that parallel dramas in East Asia and in Europe could feed on each other. Washington’s ‘Asian Pivot’ is diverting US focus and power from Nato to the Far East, creating an opening for Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Mr Putin’s arms build-up has equipped him with a formidable military machine just at the moment when the EU has been slashing spending on modern weaponry. He has a window of opportunity to press his advantage, perhaps by testing Nato solidarity in the Baltics with his hallmark form of hybrid warfare.
Putin says the US / NATO is irreversibly pushing the world towards nuclear war (17 June 2016):
hat-tip Stephen Neil