The Widdershins

An issue you’ll soon likely hear…

Posted on: April 22, 2014

Good afternoon Widdershin friends.  I had prepared another post for today, but some “real life” stuff got in the way of completing it so I’m punting.  The following was a post I originally put up way back in November 2013.  You will be hearing about it again with the upcoming Asia foreign policy trip.  The ongoing feud between Japan and China over the Spratly Islands is showing no signs of “letting bygones be bygones.”

So here is the replay:

Map South China Sea

The tragedy facing the Philippines reminded me of an excellent piece of old-school long journalism I recently read in The New York Times Magazine.  While an investment of time, it is the best thing I’ve read about the challenges facing us in the coming decades as we pivot from a foreign policy captivated by the Middle East to an Asian-centric foreign policy.

I highly recommend this article and slide show.  With beautiful photography, it details the ongoing struggle in the South China Sea over approximately 160,000 square miles centering around the Spratly Islands.  Western maps of the 18th Century detail the expanse as “Dangerous Ground,” a term that has stuck to the present day.  The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency still concludes, “Avoidance of Dangerous Ground is the mariner’s only guarantee of safety.”  In the coming decades, it appears we will be unable to obey our own advice.

With abundant fishing and possibly 5.4 billion barrels of oil and 55.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, this area could very well be the new flash point in international diplomacy.  Here is the opening paragraph:

In a remote corner of the South China Sea, 105 nautical miles from the Philippines, lies a submerged reef that the Filipinos call Ayungin.  There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor.  In most ways it resembles the hundreds of other desolate reefs, islands, rock clusters and cays that collectively are called the Spratly Islands.  But Ayungin is different.  It sits on the southwestern edge of Reed Bank, an area rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas.  And it shallows are home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, manned by eight Filipino troops struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation.  Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.


This is the most open of open threads.


2 Responses to "An issue you’ll soon likely hear…"

Prolix, I recall this now and I have seen a couple of reports on new agreements between the U.S. and the Philippines on “security” issues and granting the U.S. access to bases there.

Wonderful. A new Pacific problem/

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