Tuesday, 27 October 2015

stretch of sands or jack sprat

The dicey encounter between the US and Chinese navies in the rarefied archipelagos of the South China Sea represents of course modern points of contention but the history, the anchorage of the Spratly Islands (known by several other, disputed monikers) reaches into the distant past and under tenser auspices. Though just outside of major shipping-lanes, the disperse islands, some eight hundred shoals and reefs that constitute a mere four square kilometers of land combined, did not garner much attention, regarded as treacherous waters to be avoided—outside of a few micronation claimants—until the end of the nineteenth century, seeing the chance to expand their sphere of influence and control of the channels of commerce, Britain made the first petition.
This territorial extension did not yield a secure title as the newly independent Philippines first needed gentle reminders by their former minder, the USA, that their lands did not extend that far out (though the lesson did not really penetrate with these squabbles extending through the people’s revolution in China, the Republic in exile in Formosa, another try for a micronation utopia, and finally the intentional wrecking of a Filipino submarine on one of the islands and a permanent military detachment around that wreckage) and then was overcome by the outcome of the Sino-French War that erupted over Qing China’s incursions into Tonkin (the northern part of French-Indochina, now Vietnam). Japan occupied most of the archipelago during World War II, with the Republic of China (now confined to Taiwan) re-establishing garrisons after the Japanese surrender. Lending more support to Chiang Kai-shek than to the communist, mainland government, America preferences rather inflamed the dispute and helped foment the notion of a one-China policy—insofar as the stance translates to Western ears. Post-war, the stakes grew with natural resources to exploit and Malaysia and the Sultanate of Brunei joining in.