JAMES O’NEILL. The South China Sea and the risk of war: a summary.

It is self-evident that the risk of war is not confined to the South China Sea.  In fact, the risk of war there is probably less than in other significant flash points around the world.  

Since 1945 The US has overthrown or sought to overthrow at least 55 governments, of which 32 were successful.  Recent examples involving Australia include Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  All of these countries, and many others from that list of 55, are now seriously dysfunctional.  They have certain other features in common, including the reasons for the intervention, which are rarely as publicized.  Similarly, the mainstream media likewise continually misrepresents the consequences.

In Afghanistan, for example, we now know that the decision to invade was taken in July 2001, two months before the “9/11” events that were the ostensible reason.  The real reasons had more to do with the gas pipeline from the Caspian Basin.  Sixteen years, billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of displaced and killed persons later, the US and its allies, including Australia, are still there.  The mainstream media is still concealing the real reasons.  Apart from the aforesaid pipeline, the real motives include control of the opium crop; military bases on China and Iran’s borders; and $3 trillion of mineral resources including the so-called rare earth minerals essential for modern technology.

This history is relevant in looking at the South China Sea where the dominant mainstream narrative is one of China’s alleged “aggressiveness” or bullying of its neighbours in the region.  This arises in part from China’s claims within the so-called Nine Dash Line, a vague delineation of territorial limits within the South China Sea.  China is also accused of militarizing the South China Sea by the construction of artificial islands within the Spratlys Group, a collection of rocks, reefs and shoals in the southern South China Sea.

In fact, the Nine Dash Line was first formulated by the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai Shek in 1947, two years before the PRC came into existence.  The Nationalist government’s latter day successor, Taiwan, makes almost identical claims as the PRC in respect of its claimed “rights” within the Nine Dash Line.  That unity of view between Taiwan and the PRC extends to both of them rejecting the recent findings of the International Court of Arbitration on the claim brought by the then Philippines Government.

Taiwan has also militarized Pratos, an island some 2000 km from Taiwan itself.  Vietnam has thus far also constructed military fortifications on eight of the Spratlys “islands”.  Other littoral States have done likewise, but the mainstream media only ever refers to China’s program as “evidence” of some nefarious intent.

A key entry and exit point for the South China Sea is the Malacca Strait, a 2.4 km wide waterway between Sumatra and Malaysia.  Approximately $5 trillion of sea borne trade passes through the Strait each year, including 80% of china’s oil exports. The US Navy, together with its ally Australia, has a regular military exercise, Operation Talisman Sabre, that practices blockading the Malacca Strait.  Unsurprisingly, that is seen as an unfriendly act by China.  It is difficult to reconcile this exercise with the propaganda about “freedom of navigation” that the Americans purport to exercise in the South China Sea.

Freedom of navigation is a right protected for civilian traffic under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  China has ratified this convention, the US has not.  There has not been a single reported incident of China hindering the free passage of civilian traffic in the South China Sea.

Also largely unreported in the western media is the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea entered into by China and the ten ASEAN countries in November 2002.  Officials of all these countries have met on a regular basis in the intervening years to formulate the rules and regulations to give effect to the Declaration.  The latest such meeting was in May 2017 when the parties agreed upon the final framework “to manage and control disputes, to deepen practical maritime cooperation, to promote consultation and jointly maintain the peace and stability of the South China Sea. This also received almost no coverage in the western mainstream media.  It does not of course accord with the preferred narrative of an aggressive China bullying its neighbours.

The potential blocking of the Malacca Strait by hostile forces has spurred China into developing alternative routs and options for its international trade and development.  These include the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor and, most importantly, the huge infrastructure program known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  Together with related multilateral arrangements, including BRICS, the North South Transportation Corridor, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a rapid transformation of Eurasia is currently underway.

Collateral arrangements include bypassing the US dollar as the medium of exchange, with countries either trading in their own currencies or through new developments such as the gold backed convertible note.  These and other initiatives will have enormous implications for the US dollar and the global hegemony that has flowed from its previous unique role.

An almost completely unnoticed aspect of the BRI is that China will have secure and land- based access from friendly countries to the very commodities that Australia has grown rich on selling to China over the past 40 years.

If Australia persists in its current Anglo-American centric foreign and defence policies, then the time will shortly arrive when China will no longer view Australia as a favoured source of raw materials.  The results would be economically catastrophic for Australia.

The time is long overdue when there was a fundamental reappraisal of just where Australia’s true economic and geopolitical interests lie.

James O’Neill is a barrister at law and geopolitical analyst.  He may be contacted at joneill@qldbar.asn.au.

This is an edited summary of a paper presented to the IPAN conference in Melbourne, 8-10 September 2017.  A complete version of the paper, together with references may be obtained by contacting the author.


james O'Neill is a Barrister at Law and geopolitical analyst.

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5 Responses to JAMES O’NEILL. The South China Sea and the risk of war: a summary.

  1. Bolt says:

    Hi Paul.

    No, I’m Australian.

    The Rohingya crisis has been going for at least 5 years and the Au govt has Rohingya refugees on the not yet closed Manus, some of whom it paid to return.

    Where was the human rights outrage then?

    Propornot or wherever you learn your opinions is not the best use of the internet.

  2. Paul Frijters says:


    I would expect ‘Bolt’ to be Andrew Korybko of the Katehon group (or a proxy), described by the New York Times as stooges for Putin, specialising in desinformation and conspiracy theories. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/17/world/europe/russia-propaganda-elections.html?mcubz=3


    no need to pour oil on the fire. James is quite capable of coming up with his own conspiracy theories. Last time, he was saying the US was masterminding a war between China and Russia, and foreshadowing the collapse of Europe. Now he is at it again with the claim the invasion of Afghanistan was planned in July 2001 for the purposes of pipelines (a favoured theme of the Katehon group: the same reason they are pushing the idea that the US wants to create a Rohingya homeland to deny the Chinese a particular pipeline route. If only the US was that smart!).


  3. Bolt says:

    China has a gas pipeline from Kunming to Kyaukphyu in Rakine state. If the proposed OBOR rail link and deep water port are completed it would bypass the Mallacca straits bottleneck and render the South China Sea issue largely moot.
    The Rakine Muslim element the Myanmar government is fighting have connections to Saudi and Pakistani madrassas funded by KSA. There is are obvious parallels with the US geopolitical manipulations from Kososvo to Syria to create human rights issues in support of R2P interventions to block these developments by China.

    “The plight of the Rohingyas elicits understandable concern from many, but the unfortunate aspect is that the US is manipulating the world’s short-term emotional response to the current migrant crisis in order to pursue its long-term geopolitical interests in South Asia.

    The intended creation of a pro-American autonomous or independent Rohingyaland is akin to the same strategic pattern that it first spearheaded in “Kosovo”, except the US can now achieve its goals via the indirect Hybrid War lessons that it’s perfected in Syria.

    The crusade for state creation is inherently tied to the destruction of the targeted host state, which in this case would see Rohingyaland (and perhaps many other ethnic nation-states) being baptized through a sea of fire in separating from Myanmar.

    The US has concrete geopolitical reasons for why it supports the Rohingyas, chiefly concerning the establishment of its first intended base in mainland South Asia and its desire to cut off China’s non-Malacca pipeline routes through Myanmar.

    Additionally, with a firm regional outpost in Rohingyaland (whether direct or via proxy), the US can obstruct the multipolar BCIM trade corridor and leverage influence in Bangladesh, Northeast India, the rest of Myanmar, and perhaps even further afield in Yunnan Province.

    The coming months will be indicative of how far the US plans to go in supporting Rohingyaland, but by all current indications, it seems that this is a cause which Washington won’t give up on anytime soon.”

    PART I:


    PART II:


    Posted by: Andrew Korybko | Sep 4, 2017 5:09:52 PM http://www.moonofalabama.org/2017/09/the-rohingya-of-myanmar-pawns-in-an-anglo-chinese-proxy-war-fought-by-saudi-jihadists.html#c6a00d8341c640e53ef01bb09c007ee970d

  4. Julian says:

    Thank you James.
    Your conclusion is worth quoting:
    “The time is long overdue when there was a fundamental reappraisal of just where Australia’s true economic and geopolitical interests lie.”
    No doubt our new submarines will solve all our problems.

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