We reported previously on the growing military tensions in the South China Sea.
China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have competing claims on several clusters of South China Sea islands. The U.S. has sided against Beijing. Last year the U.S.S. George Washington, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, cruised into Vietnamese waters to mark the 15th anniversary of normalization of relations between two once warring nations. It also sent a signal to Beijing that Vietnam is seeking closer military ties with the U.S. Two weeks ago, three U.S. Navy ships paid call on Vietnam, China’s ancient antagonist, for a weeklong joint exercise. In Manila last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly assured her hosts that the U.S. would honor its mutual defense pact with the Philippines and sell it new weaponry on discounted terms. Arms imports to Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia have gone up 84 percent, 146 percent, and 722 percent, respectively, since 2000. The spending is on naval and air platforms: surface warships, submarines with advanced missile systems, and long-range fighter jets. Vietnam recently spent $2 billion on six state-of-the-art Kilo-class Russian submarines and $1 billion on Russian fighter jets. Malaysia just opened a submarine base on Borneo and spent spent $1 billion on two Franco-Spanish subs . Indonesia has just taken delivery of the last of six Russian fighter jets worth $300 million. Thailand has received the first of 96 Ukrainian armored personnel carriers ($125 million), with the first of six Swedish fighter jets and two other aircraft ($574 million) arriving in early 2011. Singapore will soon launch the second of two Swedish attack submarines ($128 million). The acquisition of sophisticated weapons indicates two things: First, that Southeast Asian nations are more wary of each other. Second, that the region maypublicly welcomes China's soft power but is also quietly tooling up for the hard version.
The Pentagon is refocussing on Asia and redeploying for a prospective war with China. War is far from inevitable even if competition is a given. Pentagon officials are seeking ways to adapt a concept known as AirSea Battle specifically for China. A recent article in Inside the Pentagon reported that a small group of U.S. Navy officers known as the China Integration Team "is hard at work applying the lessons of [AirSea Battle] to a potential conflict with China." It complements the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a government white paper that precluded the rise of any "peer competitor" that might challenge U.S. dominance worldwide. The Planning Guidance is the Pentagon’s writ for control of what defense planners call "the global commons," a euphemism for the seaways, land bridges and air corridors that are the arteries of international commerce. In March 2010, when a Chinese official was quoted by Japanese media as identifying the region as a "core interest" of Chinese sovereignty, the White House retaliated by declaring that freedom of maritime navigation is a U.S. "national interest." For a foreign power to challenge this American dominion is to effectively declare war on the United States, and that is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway in Southeast Asia. A U.S. mobilization in Asia is well underway, in faith with a spring 2001 Pentagon study called "Asia 2025" which identified China as a "persistent competitor of the United States," bent on "foreign military adventurism." Three years later, the U.S. government went public with a plan that called for a new chain of bases in Central Asia and the Middle East, in part to box in the People’s Republic. Beijing identifies the U.S. as an outright threat.
The South China Sea joins the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. Here is the center of maritime Eurasia, punctuated by the straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, and Makassar. More than half the world's annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through these choke points, and a third of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than six times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea's energy supplies, nearly 60 percent of Japan's and Taiwan's energy supplies, and about 80 percent of China's crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea. What's more, the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 7 billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a potentially huge bounty. Energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, with China accounting for half that growth -- make the South China Sea the ever more central guarantor of the region's economic strength.
Socialists never tire of pointing out, the primary function of military power in capitalism is to protect and expand control over resources, markets and transport routes on behalf of the capitalist class of the country concerned.
Details taken from here and here and here