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.
“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.
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, 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)
 Geopolitics, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geopolitics
 World’s largest economies, http://money.cnn.com/news/economy/world_economies_gdp/