Unrestricted Access to the Pacific Ocean: What China Wants Part One

One of the biggest questions in the minds of Filipinos the last couple of months has been, “WHY IS CHINA SUCH A DIC#?” Some say it is because they wanted our natural resources, while other say they needed a distraction due to their contracting economy. However, one possible answer that came to me one day out of nowhere when I was pondering the very same question above might be that its just a question of GEOPOLITICS.[1]

“Geopolitics” is the study of the effects of geography on international politics and international relations, and this best describes what is happening right now with China and its relationship with most of the countries around its access to the sea.

‘East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean’
First of all, let us take a closer look at China’s geography. If you look at a map of China, you will notice that it is mainly landlocked on 3 sides: In the North, West and South. The only area it has access to the sea is on the East, specifically on the East China and South China Seas:

However, this is deceptive because it turns out that China’s access to the sea is not really “free”, and that there are STRATEGIC HINDRANCES to its access to the oceans. To illustrate this, let us take a closer look at China’s access to the seas and oceans. Let’s take a look first at a map of the East China Sea.

As you can see from the map, China has access to the East China Sea thru the Yellow Sea, but has to contend with South Korea and Japan in the North. China does have direct frontage to the Yellow Sea in the South, but Taiwan is also there crowding that area. From the East China Sea to the North Pacific Ocean, there are a group of islands strung along the border and sort of “blocking” the way, and these are the Ryukyu Islands, which is a territory of Japan.

Now, of course it doesn’t mean that China can’t go from the East China Sea to the North Pacific Ocean if they wanted to, but from a STRATEGIC point of view, having Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands blocking direct access to the Pacific Ocean will put them in a disadvantage during times of war as enemy bases could be put there to harass and disrupt the Chinese sea lanes. Hence, strategically, if China wants unrestricted access to the North Pacific Ocean, it will have to take CONTROL of Taiwan and the Ryukyu Islands.

‘South China Sea’
Things are even worst for China in the South China Sea (SCS), mainly because there is an inconveniently small country called the “Philippines” blocking the way for China from the SCS to the Pacific Ocean.

As you can see from the map, the Philippines almost completely blocks the way from the SCS to the Pacific Ocean, except for that relatively narrow corridor in the north between Taiwan and the Philippines called the Luzon Strait. Also notice that there are small chains of islands in that are belonging to the Philippines. Again, strategically this is not good for China as again enemies could harass/disrupt China’s sea lanes from the Philippines or Taiwan.

‘Strategic Importance’
So what if China does not have a direct, strategic access to the Pacific Ocean, why is it so important for them and why does it matter? Well, this is because China sees itself as the rising and next World Superpower, and being the next world superpower, it feels that it cannot be as influential in terms of world events if it does not have as free as access to the open sea.

If you look at the top 2 economies of the entire world today in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the United States and China are number 1 and number 2,[2] but China sees the United States as a “fading” World Superpower, and that they will be the ones to take its place, and when it does, it wants to be a Sea Power also, and it cannot do that if strategically in times of war its sea lanes can be blocked, harassed or disrupted because of their geological location.

Worst is the fact that while China’s access to the oceans is severely restricted, the same is not true for the country that it sees as its main rival, the US. If you take a close look at a map of the US, one thing that made it such a great superpower is its unrestricted access not only to one ocean, but TWO: The Pacific Ocean in the West, and the Atlantic Ocean in the East.

Let’s also take a look at the “other” or “forgotten” superpower right now, Russia. Russia also has good access to the sea, one reason that they were able to effectively keep up with the Americans during the Cold War. They have good access to the Pacific Ocean in the East and also the Arctic Ocean in the North. Notice that even Russia has a BETTER access to the oceans than China has right now.

So China thinks it has a big problem right now and for its future as a world superpower. Geographically, it just wasn’t gifted with enough ocean frontage. It sees this as a severe hindrance in its ability to become the major player in world events in the future.

Note that China will not become the primary world superpower soon. They are on the rise, but as it is the US economy is still over 77% larger then them if you compare their GDPs. Hence, it will take a couple more decades for them to overhaul the US, if they are to overhaul the US at all. But credit them for thinking way ahead, and planning well into the future by planting the seeds NOW that it may one day cultivate for its own use. And that is why they are starting to act belligerent against countries like the Philippines, and Japan. They know that one day, they might have to take territories from both these countries in order for them to have that unrestricted access to the ocean.

(End of Part One)


[1] Geopolitics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geopolitics

[2] World’s largest economies, http://money.cnn.com/news/economy/world_economies_gdp/

11 thoughts on “Unrestricted Access to the Pacific Ocean: What China Wants Part One”

  1. In a historical sense the Chinese maybe see exactly what happens in major naval wars to the power with the inferior strategic position. The Dutch were checked by the English for 3 wars, winning only one by superior tactical surprise because of England’s superior position geographically. The United Kingdom would do the very same thing to the German Imperial High Seas Fleet in the First World War 300 years later. The Cold War also saw the NATO do much the same with the Soviet Union, able to block the Baltic and Black Sea fleets at will during time of crisis. And NATO membership with Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Great Britain, and Iceland allowed NATO to potentially channel the Soviet North Sea Fleet during times of conflict.

      1. Indeed! However, the defensive nature of Philippine geography is comparable to that of a sore. That is a string o sores. (sorry)
        BTW, thanks for this very informative blog , rhk. Bravo!!

  2. United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, defines a Country’s Territorial Sea as a belt of coastal waters extending at most 12 nautical miles from the baseline, or coasts, of a Country.

    This sea is regarded as the sovereign territory of the state, although foreign ships (both military and civilian) are allowed innocent passage through it; this sovereignty also extends to the airspace over and seabed below.

    12 Miles. There’s a lot of unrestricted free passage ine th WPS and even off the Chinese Coasts facing Taiwan and Japan.

    What they’re really after arguably, are the vast putative sources of what may be the last large natural deposits of Oil and Gas.

    Any bases in the WPS is by nature extremely vulnerable to attack via Long Range Ballistic Missiles, both land and ship based, as well as submarine and air deployed land attack missiles.

    Eventually, a peaceful joint exploration would be the best way to go for all parties disputing the area.

    1. Well, nations tend to ignore territorial boundaries in times of war, and it wouldn’t be good for anybody’s fleet to have an enemy base behind their back as they are transiting out of their ports into the open ocean, that is why Taiwan will have to be taken by China in any Global War that China might get involved in.

      As for joint exploration … No. China wants to OWN the entire South China Sea, and any joint exploration will only put some sort of legitimacy on their claim. Besides, I am sure China will not be looking for an EQUAL partner to exploit the SCS, at most they are looking for a MINOR partner for the riches in that area.

      Besides, its hard to deal with somebody in business who already brazenly STOLE your property (Mischief Reef), and then threatened to beat you up by sealing off another property (Panatag Shoal).

      China is a BULLY, and will continue to be one, no matter how we deal with them.

  3. If the reasoning is correct then the Philippines should be half a world power since it has access to the Pacific Ocean. Which should be pursued. It has to have a navy and air force that could at least deter China from going ahead with its plan. Sadly there are some lawmakers that brazenly want to negotiate with China still. Their best solution to this is for Filipinos to study Mandarin so that the Philippines can now better understand its new colonial masters (China). Back channel negotiations have just made it worse.
    Even if it is an unpopular move US rotational presence in Subic bay and its deep water harbors and Clark airfields’ expansive runways have become the Philippine’s only deterrent against China’s bullying for the meantime considering that they have no ships or planes.
    What I think would deter China more is the purchase of at least one second hand multipurpose naval vessel (with ASW, CIWS, SAMs, Ship to ship missiles) for the navy and one second hand big ass coast guard cutter (for water hose warfare like the Japanese) for the coast guard for the meantime and start a downpayment for Arleigh Burke class frigates or new Incheon class frigates.

    1. Unfortunately, Omar, being a World Power requires more than just access to the sea, you also need a lot of money, something the Philippines does not have much of at the moment, and something which China has with them being number 2 in the entire world in terms of the size of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

      The only thing that will deter China is presence of US forces on our soil. Note that China did NOT dare steal away our territory when the US bases were still here, they only did so after the US left …

  4. I believe that China is still eyeing on the vast resources that WPS can offer (oil, natural gas, aquatic resources, control on sea lanes etc..) rather than access on Pacific Ocean that is why they are bullying us. Taiwan is easier to get than Philippines if they want access to Pacific Ocean even though we lack sophisticated military hardware incomparison to Taiwan. They also have a thousand reasons to invade Taiwan than Philippines which they can use as alliby in doing so…

  5. As I have posted earlier, I see the Philippines as an ensemble of choke points.It is a huge obstacle course or barrier between WPS and the Pacific. You have to clear one obstacle after another only to find your self facing another. This is the strategic beauty of our archipelago. If our military leadership can come up with the most viable defense plan. Then ,the defense requirement can be formulated and then the equipment and armaments can be sorted out.. The so called “desired force mix” could be modified in accordance to that requirement based on our geography.We don’t need to have the same equipment with America. their equipment are designed for a different requirement than ours. One example was the SSV program of the navy,.The DND has opted for the Makassar design which is visually identifiable as a LPD. IMHO, the navy should have favored a hybrid LPD/LST design very similar to the Singaporean TSS Endurance-class. This hybrid ship can directly unload its cargo io the beaches if required,

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