Analysis: China’s belligerence, Southeast Asia’s arms race, and 1914

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the echoes of the first World War in the arms race underway in Southeast Asia.  Excerpt:

Manthorpe B&WAs China has become wealthy it has also become an expansionist power. Beijing portrays its territorial ambitions as merely the re-assertion of its sovereignty over lands that were stolen from it during the “century of humiliation” after its disastrous collision with the industrial powers starting in the 1840s.

For the most part these claims are bunk. Beijing’s loud and often belligerent claims to ownership of the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the island nation of Taiwan, and most of the South China Sea as far as the territorial waters of Indonesia are modern fabrications of little or no merit.

At the same time, Chinese officials have studied the history of the European empires of the 18th and 19th centuries and concluded that their survival and expansion depended on the control of far-flung resources. Because of its communist and authoritarian heritage and instincts, Beijing continues to shy away from the message of the American imperium and to trust the market place to provide what is necessary to fuel its economy.

To these ends to control of territory and resources, China has in the last 20 years been pursuing the ability to project power to defend its interests. The key ingredient of this effort has been the construction of a massive and modern blue water navy, whose evident purpose is to challenge the supremacy of the U.S. navy.

It is this that carries echoes of the years leading up to 1914 and the start of the First World War.

Log in to read the column, 1914 and the China Syndrome.* (F&O premium works, including our commentary, are available for a $1 site day pass, or with monthly or annual subscriptions. Real journalism has value, and to avoid the conflicts inherent in advertising or soliciting outside funding F&O relies entirely on reader payments to sustain our professional quality.)