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National Defense > Blog > Posts > McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea
McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea
Tensions between China and its less powerful neighbors over territorial claims in the South China Sea could erupt into conflict, Sen. John McCain said recently.

“I am increasingly concerned … that the South China Sea is becoming a flashpoint,” said McCain, R-Ariz., at a June 20 Center for Strategic and International Studies forum on China-U.S. relations, in Washington, D.C.

China has claimed a large, U-shaped section of the South China Sea since the 1940s, which is commonly referred to as the “nine-dotted line.” It claims all islands in the sea as sovereign territory — including surrounding waters — as an exclusive economic zone. It includes the Spratlys, an island chain that has rich fishing grounds, along with the possibility of oil reserves.

In early June, Chinese fishing boats and Vietnamese petroleum exploration vessels were involved in a skirmish in the waters, resulting in a diplomatic row between the two nations.

McCain criticized China’s increasingly assertive actions to defend the nine-dotted line. “One of the main forces exacerbating tensions in the South China Sea … is the behavior of China and the unsubstantiated territorial claims that it seeks to advance,” he said.

Recent Chinese actions in the region “erode the freedom of navigation,” and the nation cannot deny neighboring countries access to the sea and its resources, he said.

Stressing the U.S. national security interest in maintaining a favorable strategic balance in the South China Sea, he suggested that the United States should supply maritime defense and detection capabilities to members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Such military aid could include early warning radar and coastal security vessels, McCain said.

ASEAN countries include: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and one landlocked nation, Laos. Most of the tensions over the disputed territory are between China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and non-ASEAN member Taiwan.

The United States could facilitate third-party negotiations in support of a peaceful agreement, he said. But ASEAN must present China with a united front. He called for the United States to commit to regional security, not isolationism. “We will not withdraw or be pushed out of the Asia-Pacific region,” he stated. The goal should be to disperse our forces in the Asia-Pacific region, he added.

McCain also addressed defense budget cuts. “We must be guided by strategy, not arbitrary arithmetic,” he warned. We must make the “necessary investments in our national defense capabilities…to remain the world’s leading military power,” he said.

He criticized the Obama administration’s proposed defense cuts of $400 billion over the next 12 years as lacking “strategic rationale.” The president did not explain why that figure was chosen and what the cuts would entail.

“I think reasonable people could also agree that this is no way to plan for our national defense,” he said.

— Reporting by Fumiko Hedlund


Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

Ocean-faring Chinese explorers had claimed the Spratly Islands a thousand years ago.

[Source: Wikipedia article on Spratly Islands with primary sources listed in footnotes]

"Ancient Chinese maps record the "Thousand Li Stretch of Sands"; Qianli Changsha (千里長沙) and the "Ten-Thousand Li of Stone Pools"; Wanli Shitang (萬里石塘),[7] which China today claims refers to the Spratly Islands. The Wanli Shitang have been explored by the Chinese since the Yuan Dynasty and may have been considered by them to have been within their national boundaries. [8][9] They are also referenced in the 13th century,[10] followed by the Ming Dynasty.[11] When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing Dynasty continued to include the territory in maps compiled in 1724,[12] 1755,[13] 1767,[14] 1810,[15] and 1817.[16] A Vietnamese map from 1834 also includes the Spratly Islands clumped in with the Paracels (a common occurrence on maps of that time) labeled as "Wanli Changsha".[17]"
China Lee at 6/22/2011 11:58 AM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

Support McCain 100% and stop defence cut from Obama's idea.
I hope all Southeast Asian countries should unite & defence with China at anyhow.   “We will not withdraw or be pushed out of the Asia-Pacific region,” from McCain...
Trung Nguyen at 6/22/2011 12:11 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

China (P.R.China) and Taiwan (R.O.China) have NO dispute with regrading to Spratly and Paracel islands. And never had they considered each other as a competing claimant to those islands.

They may not agree with each other on which government represents China, but they fully agree with each other that Spratly and Paracel islands, and their surrounding waters, belong to China.

silencetigger at 6/22/2011 12:22 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

China is on its way to match and then surpass the U.S. in GDP. Are we going to bankrupt ourselves like the USSR did in matching the Chinese in defense spending when that happens? I hope not.
skeptic at 6/22/2011 12:37 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

The countries of Southeast Asia encompass almost the entire South China Sea with a total coastline measuring approximately 130,000 kilometers (81,250 miles) long” compared to only 2,800 kilometers (1,750 miles) of coastline in southern China.
The sea is not restricted to a specific country. It is a common heritage of mankind and has actually been used by the international community for centuries as the second most important water channel in the world
SEA at 6/22/2011 2:48 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

ASEAN countries such as Vietnam, The Philippines, Indonesia, etc consistently prefer an International Court to solve the dispute based on UNCLOS 1982.  China however is scared of appearing in front of Internation Court.  It resorts to "small talk" with each of ASEAN countries.

Why is an International Court based on UNCLOS 1982 China's nightmare?  Why is China affraid of facing cilivilised world's laws while small ASEAN countries are not afraid of?

And the theory of "thousand years ago China seafearers been there drew this noted that, so this and that and that and this are all China's today" is funny; especially to Mr. Columbus.
QX at 6/23/2011 4:55 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

What can I say? Since thousands of years ago, the Chinese are always arrogant and think everything belongs to them, that was why they have civil wars inside their countries. Dynasties rose and fell and land was divided all because the Chinese are too arrogant to try to even coexist as a whole
Truthbringer at 6/23/2011 7:10 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

@Truthbringer, you should re-check the history about European colonists to understand what arrogant means. Or, I forgot, Europeans do not consider other races humans and that is why they skinned them. You can also check who the islands in the Pacific and Atlantic belong to. I would like those islands to belong to the whole humankind, but they only belong to the British, the French and the Americans, or in another word, arrogant evils.

@QX,  international court? Wow, guess the US always follows the United Nation's resolution. You do know the long Iraq war the US is still fighting, which is against UN resolution, do you? 
Jie at 6/25/2011 5:47 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

Not in ancient time. Communist Chinese leader lie and lie about their history period. They provide wikipedia wrong information about. They make up about it. STOP lie, the world know as they claim Tibet country belong to them too. Greed will kill you.
Michael Tran at 6/25/2011 5:56 PM

Re: McCain Warns of ‘Flashpoint’ in the South China Sea

no country's claim can be bullet-proof. china has not defined what it meant with the 9-dotted lines -- they remain dotted lines. china has not clarified if it claims all the sea areas as its own, or just the islands and their surrounding waters. it hasn't even put exact coordinates on the dotted line. its historical records cannot support a clarification one way or another. also, the history approach is in conflict with the international maritime convention's legal approach, and china is a signatory to that convention. the 9-dotted line claims a LOT and simply looks frightening on a map. china will have a hard time defending it other than by its gunboats. chinese red guard hotheads like jie make matters worse for the country.
xinxin at 6/25/2011 9:31 PM

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