GIDEON RACHMAN. The Asian strategic order is dying. (Financial Times 6.8.2019)

When somebody is reaching the end of their life, they often suffer from lots of apparently unrelated ailments — fevers, chest pains, unlucky falls. Something similar may happen when a strategic order is dying.

Across east Asia, the past month has seen a rash of diplomatic and security incidents that are symptoms of a wider sickness.In late July, the Chinese and Russian air forces staged their first ever joint aerial patrol in the region, causing South Korean warplanes to fire hundreds of warning shots at Russian intruders. The South Koreans are also facing the most serious deterioration in their relations with Japan in decades — with the Japanese imposing trade restrictions last week in a dispute that has its origins in the second world war. North Korea has also just restarted missile tests, endangering US-led peace efforts.

All of the other east Asian flashpoints — Taiwan, the South China Sea, Hong Kong and the US-China trade war — are also looking more combustible. Protests and strikes in Hong Kong are still gathering momentum.

Chinese officials are now openly discussing military intervention and last week a White House official drew attention to a massing of Chinese troops, just across the border from Hong Kong. For the Trump administration, however, the major preoccupation remains its trade dispute with China, which also intensified last week, with the US imposing a new set of tariffs.

July also saw a Chinese oil exploration vessel enter waters claimed by Vietnam, leading to a stand-off between heavily armed Chinese and Vietnamese ships. The government of the Philippines, too, sounded the alarm about Chinese naval incursions and called for American assistance. China’s growing assertiveness was underlined by the news that Beijing is developing a military base in Cambodia, its first in south-east Asia.

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