War tensions are building in the South China Sea, due to China’s clearly excessive claims of territorial sovereignty over “almost all of the 1.2 million square mile area” of that Sea (see first link). China is directly confronting the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam in making its very expansive claims.
The USA Today article opines that “a clash between East and West is perhaps unavoidable,” and includes one regional analyst’s opinion that “It’s only a matter of time before one side opens fire on the other and there will be casualties.” There has already been one maritime standoff between Chinese and Philippine naval forces. The second link reports that the Philippines realizes that it has neglected its military defenses and now is making an effort to build up its military due to the South China Sea tensions with China.
Why would China make such obviously excessive claims in the South China Sea region? The first link cites an analyst’s opinion that “China has boxed itself in.” Personally, I think China’s strategy is very calculated and deliberate. As the first link observes, several nations that could find themselves in a shooting regional war with China are US allies. If a shooting war breaks out, the USA is almost certain to respond with at least one carrier task force being dispatched to the region. China is creating a situation where it could be drawn into a regional, limited war with US naval forces, and I think China is doing this quite deliberately. Consider the following analysis.
China has built many new weapons systems which are designed to sink US aircraft carriers and surface ships as well as destroy US warplanes; however, their weapons systems have never been tested in combat conditions. Also, China’s military personnel are very “green” and untested in terms of how well they will perform in combat conditions. China needs to test its weaponry against US carriers in real-world battle scenarios to know if they can defeat US carriers or whether the USA has deployed defensive weaponry on its carriers that can defeat China’s new supersonic cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and torpedoes. China does not wish an all-out war with the USA yet, but it needs to test its weaponry against US forces to know what kind of strategic planning it can do to prepare for a future war with the USA and the West (which is prophesied in Ezekiel 38 to occur at the very end of the “latter days”). A limited war in the South China Sea would be very favorable to China geographically as it is in China’s backyard and China can deploy a wide variety of land-, sea- and air-based weaponry. China also wants to test the mettle of the regional anti-Chinese alliance which is forming to counter China’s military build-up. It also wants to see if Japan, India and Australia would join in the battle or whether they would refuse to engage their forces.
During the Cold War, both the USA and the Soviets would arrange tests of their latest weaponry via surrogate wars (often Mideast wars at that time). China may be arranging a direct conflict with US forces in the South China Sea which would give China acceptable options depending on whether the war goes well or poorly for them. By making excessive and bellicose claims in the South China Sea, China can assert its claim successfully if the war goes well for them or they can quickly agree to a cease-fire and UN arbitration over contested claims by regional nations in the South China Sea if the war goes badly for them. China (and Russia) could also test their latest anti-carrier weaponry in the Persian Gulf in a surrogate situation if a war breaks out between Iran and Israel which draws in the USA and other regional powers. China and Russia could easily position their latest cruise missiles on the Iranian coast and fire them at US carriers (ostensibly under Iranian control) if such a war break as out. They will allow the Iranians to claim they sunk a US carrier if the missiles are successful so Russia and China would have plausible deniability about their weaponry being used.
As noted in the first link, Russia and China are conducting joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea while the USA is conducting joint naval exercises with South Korea in the region. More information about the large-scale Russian-Chinese exercises are included in the final link which also notes that China had previously seized Vietnamese fishermen in a maritime dispute in the South China Sea.
China is steadily pushing the situation toward a conflict in the South China Sea. I think that is exactly what China wants to do, although it would not say so openly.