Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

New Cold War: South China Sea - Asia's most dangerous waters

The South China Sea -- a 1.3 million square mile patch of the Pacific Ocean bracketed by China and several Southeast Asian nations -- is dotted with hundreds of largely uninhabited islands and coral atolls that are home to some of the world's most diverse marine life.

Also under its waves lie potentially huge reserves of natural gas and oil. A Chinese estimate suggests as much as 213 billion barrels of oil lie untapped in the South China Sea which, if true, would make it the largest oil reserve outside Saudi Arabia, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

That prospect has cross-stitched the sea with competing claims from China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. A recent spate of incidents between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels in the sea has fueled a growing rift between the communist neighbors, creating strange bedfellows as Hanoi embraces closer military ties with historic foes in Washington.

The South China Sea has now become a petri dish for swirling changes churning the geopolitical landscape, analysts say, as the rising power of China butts up against the established economic and military might of the U.S.

"How these disputes are resolved will tell us how politics in Asia is going to play out in the next 20 to 30 years," said Mark Valencia, a fellow at the National Asia Research Program and expert on the South China Sea dispute. "This will be the blueprint." (read more)