Asian countries convened last weekend at the Bangkok ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit to discuss the political situation surrounding the lucrative waters. The central theme of the discussions was a proposed code of conduct, which could thwart Chinese strategy as tension builds between Beijing and the US, both of which are flirting with hostility due to lack of communication in the waters. According to Professor Kerry Brown of Chatham House, the lack of regular messaging between Chinese and US ships could be the cause of inadvertent conflict between two of the world’s most deadly forces.
He told Express.co.uk: “There could be a misunderstanding, there could be an instance where it escalates.
“At the moment dialogue between the US and China military to military is poor, some people say that it’s worse than between the USSR and the US during the Cold War.
“There was a lot more contact then than there is now with China, therefore misunderstandings are horribly, horribly possible.”
Ships from both nations regularly patrol the waters where China’s controversial Nine-Dash line claim has left Asian neighbours, including Washington allies, furious with Beijing aggression.
Countries that also have vested interests in the region include Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand as well as Australia.
The complex networks of alliances mean one small mistake could lead to a chain reaction of political and even military chaos.
Professor Brown, an expert on Asian geopolitics, continued: “Absolutely [conflict could ensue] that’s the First World War scenario that the Japanese Prime Minister spoke about a few years ago, all you need is one trigger or another to create a chain of tension.
“There is plenty of scope for misunderstanding, I think in the last ten years there has been a few near misses and close encounters between US and Chinese ships, you just need one of those to go amiss.
On February 17, 1979, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops crossed Vietnam’s northern border to invade the country, waging a bloody strike along the 370-mile border that the two nations share.
The result was as comprehensive as it was deadly. A far inferior Vietnamese army were picked apart by waves of Chinese invasion.
In 1988, 64 Vietnamese soldiers were killed in a conflict over the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea.
In 2014, there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese military, as a Chinese oil rig entered disputed waters where Vietnam had also contested for ownership.
It seems that smaller nations in the region are taking a stand as Xi Jinping’s South China Sea ambitions begin to unravel.
China and the US may want to avoid conflict, but as things stand it is looking increasingly likely as both powers refuse to concede defeat.