Don't expect an invitation
December 14, 2015 7:50 PM   Subscribe

 
The shit is getting very close to the fan in the South China Sea.

Many nations with interests in the area, like the Philippines, are gearing up.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail.
posted by dazed_one at 8:52 PM on December 14, 2015


They should have kept going west, tried buzzing Diego Garcia to see the response there.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:54 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


     The smart coral burst out of the depths with violence that shocked Hackworth, even though he'd been in on the design, seen the trial runs. Viewed through the dark surface of the Pacific, it was like watching an explosion through a pane of shattered glass. It reminded him of pouring a jet of heavy cream into coffee, watching it rebound from the bottom of the cup in a turbulent fractal bloom that solidified just as it dashed against the surface. The speed of this process was a carefully planned sleight-of-hand; the smart coral had actually been growing down on the bottom of the ocean for the last three months, drawing its energy from a super-con that they'd grown across the seafloor for the occasion, extracting the necessary atoms directly from the seawater and the gasses dissolved therein. The process happening below looked chaotic, and in a way it was; but each lithocule knew exactly where it was supposed to go and what it was supposed to do. They were tetrahedral building blocks of calcium and carbon, the size of poppyseeds, each equipped with a power source, a brain, and a navigational system. They rose from the bottom of the sea at a signal given by Princess Charlotte; she had awakened to find a small present under her pillow, unwrapped it to find a golden whistle on a chain, stood out on her balcony, and blown the whistle.
      The coral was converging on the site of the island from all directions, some of the lithocules traveling several kilometers to reach their assigned positions. They displaced a volume of water equal to the island itself, several cubic kilometers in all. The result was furious turbulence, an upswelling in the surface of the ocean that made some of the children scream, thinking it might rise up and snatch the airship out of the sky; and indeed a few drops pelted the ship's diamond belly, prompting the pilot to give her a little more altitude. The curt maneuver forced hearty laughter from all of the fathers in the ballroom, who were delighted by the illusion of danger and the impotence of Nature.
     The foam and mist cleared away at some length to reveal a new island, salmon-colored in the light of dawn. Applause and cheers diminished to a professional murmur. The chattering of the astonished children was too loud and high to hear.
The Diamond Age remains one of the most accurate views of the future we're living in.
posted by carsonb at 8:57 PM on December 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


won't those islands just be back under water in a few decades the way the ocean level is rising?
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:59 PM on December 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


won't those islands just be back under water in a few decades the way the ocean level is rising?

It's not what they build on them that matters at the moment. It's that they have built on them. Everything built on those Islands could wash away in a few decades, but by then the legitimacy granted by having built on them gives China de facto control over the area.
posted by dazed_one at 9:03 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Actually, according to the article,
China is bound by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which it has ratified. The law states that sub-sea structures, such as reefs, cannot be claimed as sovereign coastline, and that building artificial structures on top of them does not turn them in to sovereign territory either.
So there's no legitimacy there unless the reef's underwater status is somehow disputed. China is attempting to enforce the 12mi region surrounding the islands by radioing aircraft that comes within that range, but so far (SO FAR) it's all bluster. The US and now Australia have been flying aircraft in the area specifically to take stock of China's claims in this regard, and make sure they're not overstepping their bounds. But yeah, it does look like China's taking a different tack from the UNC they ratified.
posted by carsonb at 9:08 PM on December 14, 2015


The segment I saw about this on BBC World News America earlier this evening had a guy on after the video about the flight who explained the geopolitical significance and tangles that arise from what China is trying to do.

I sort of wish that were around someplace to share, because it was well spoken and concise and educational.
posted by hippybear at 9:08 PM on December 14, 2015


Yeah, that's why I said 'de facto control', as in control in practice but not necessarily ordained in law.
posted by dazed_one at 9:14 PM on December 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Diamond Age remains one of the most accurate views of the future we're living in.

I feel like I want to say this to many of the posts here I don’t even bother.
posted by bongo_x at 9:22 PM on December 14, 2015


There was an interesting article about containment a few issues of Foreign Affairs back.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:12 AM on December 15, 2015


Twenty years ago, a friend from South Korea told me that WWIII would start over the Spratly's.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:47 AM on December 15, 2015


SMH picks up on the story with some additional commentary:

Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said that "nothing is routine in the South China Sea right now because of the heightened state of tension in the region".

posted by kisch mokusch at 4:13 AM on December 15, 2015


"de facto control" is still a bit too strong for what China achieved with its artificial islands. That's sort of the whole point that the US is making by sailing ships and flying planes through the area of supposed control without China's permission, and ignoring China's demands to stop.

If other countries acted as if they recognized China's claims, China could have an argument that it did exercise de facto control of the area, which could then ripen into actual de jure sovereignty over it. When the US conducts a "freedom of navigation patrol" it's aimed at preventing that sort of development.

Of course, the countries whose claims are being challenged tend to dislike these patrols. This has led to the "Line of Death" clashes with Libya back in the 80's, collisions with Soviet ships in the Black Sea, and other unpleasantness. We continue to live in interesting times.
posted by Zonker at 5:26 AM on December 15, 2015


Another depressing thing is that these were pretty healthy reefs that are now completely ruined for nothing other than hubris. Corals are already pretty much doomed from ocean acidification and other effects, but it would be nice if we didn't hasten their demise.
posted by rockindata at 7:13 AM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


That is a hell of a game of chicken the BBC pulled. I would not have the courage of those Philippines pilots. On balance I'm glad they did it, but I'm also glad they didn't get shot down.
posted by Nelson at 8:43 AM on December 15, 2015


I don't think they have the control yet. Give them time, however, and they will have that de facto control. Flybys to challenge the Chinese are all well and good, but I'm curious to see what happens if one of the other interested parties tries to park a destroyer near a Chinese occupied island. That will be the real test, and that no-one seems willing to try may speak to the control the Chinese are exercising.
posted by dazed_one at 8:43 AM on December 15, 2015


The US navy did sail close to the islands in October, and it should go back in January. Flybys are easier to do and don't require the extensive preparation time of a patrol.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:48 AM on December 15, 2015


The US navy did sail close to the islands in October, and it should go back in January. Flybys are easier to do and don't require the extensive preparation time of a patrol.

No doubt the flybys are cheaper - do you know if Philippine, Vietnamese or maybe Malaysian naval units have patrolled close lately? I know the Chinese and Vietnamese came to blows twice before in the region in the 70s and 80s. I don't think the PLA-N is willing to throw down against a USN destroyer, but if it's Philippine's navy I'm not sure if they'd have the same restraint.
posted by dazed_one at 9:07 AM on December 15, 2015


China is breaking the law, and it doesn't care for a very simple reason: no one has the power or will to stop them, and they know it. They are refusing to participate in the UNCLOS arbitration panel the Philippines convened in The Hague, they're ignoring the legal claims of every other country in the region, and they aren't even pretending there's a legal basis for what they're doing. It will take force to eject them, and who will dare?
posted by 1adam12 at 9:09 AM on December 15, 2015


no one has the power or will to stop them, and they know it.

The first part isn't true. The US has the power to stop them, but it would mean war on a titanic scale.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:52 AM on December 15, 2015


It depends on what you mean by "stop them". To actually remove the artificial islands would take an act of war. To prevent them from legally or practically controlling that region of the sea takes nothing more than continuing to sail ships and fly planes through the claimed area.
posted by Zonker at 11:14 AM on December 15, 2015


The first part isn't true. The US has the power to stop them, but it would mean war on a titanic scale.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:52 PM


The Titanic hit an iceberg, not a man made island atop a coral reef, although with the amount of deep sea documentaries, The Abyss, and submarine work that Cameron did on Titanic, I can see where that might have gotten confusing. Avatar and Rambo II were way aptly described as 'War' films...
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:15 PM on December 15, 2015


I'm unable to tell if Nanukthedog has just a very very dry sense of humor, or whether there is an actual misunderstanding going on. Either way, I was amused.
posted by hippybear at 1:38 PM on December 15, 2015 [1 favorite]




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