South China Sea on the verge of conflict


Few Americans know much about the South China Sea, but they should: it's a likely location for future naval warfare that could very well draw in America's fleet.

The conflict pits China's increasingly mighty navy against scattered lesser powers with U.S. support: the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and even the tiny sultanate of Brunei.

What are they fighting over?

Oil and natural gas. (Did you even have to ask?)

A small archipelago of barely inhabited islands, the Spratlys, is believed to have loads of it.

This week, China is furious at the Philippines for joining hands with a U.K.-based firm to explore for oil in a region it considers rightfully Chinese.

An op-ed in the state-owned outlet Global Times has previously suggested that China's navy go ahead and "strike first."

"Everything will be burned to the ground should a military conflict break out," the op-ed stated. "Who’ll suffer most when Western oil giants withdraw?"

Conflict in the Middle East has overshadowed realities in the South China Sea, a potential flashpoint for an increasingly assertive China and energy-hungry nations hoping America, still the Pacific's dominant naval power, will intercede to their benefit.

So, Americans, do yourself a favor and try to wrap your head around the players and their positions.

This excellent overview of the sea's colliding forces, by journalist and author Robert Kaplan, is highly recommended.

Or you could just watch this cartoon depicting Uncle Sam and a panda angrily bumping chests.

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