Remember the time when China bristled with fury when the Court in The Hague awarded the Philippines the right of way, to outcrops in the South China Sea?
The notion that China does not know what it wants in the South China Sea no longer offers any clues. Its actual behaviour says what it wants. It wants to control the South China Sea.
So it is clear now. China off all nations, wants control of the South China Sea firstly, because of the often touted narrative that she suffered a century of humiliation and secondly, she badly needs to control access to her mainland by controlling the sea.
If history is any clue, that was just what the British did in the 1850s when they began the Opium War. A more recent phenomenon was in March 1996, when former US President Bill Clinton ordered the nuclear-powered Nimitz to blockade Shanghai and its ports when Beijing incurred American displeasure by lobbing missiles over Taiwan.
So there is reason to believe that whoever controls the sea lanes has the power over it, and the power to control and block access is just what China is seeking.
For all intents and purposes, Beijing might just be seeking to deter a threat from building, or pre-empting those thinking of launching an invasion. American actions and intentions over the last few years have not helped either. When US President Obama announced the ‘pivot’ to Asia in 2010 by the drawing down of some 60% of America’s military assets from Europe to be diverted to Asia – the unilateral US move naturally spooked Beijing.
And when President-elect Donald Trump took the very provocative phone call from Taiwan’s Tsai-Ing Wen, it just added to Beijing’s chagrin and made it blow at its embers.
Rightly or wrongly, China is suspecting containment and Western resentment, to its rise as a major power standing toe to toe with the United States.
Noticeably, China has also over the last decade been busy building oil and gas pipelines across Central Asia and securing vital maritime oil routes as it suspects that US forces, would derail and destroy its energy supplies, in the event of hostilities with the West.
All of these are adding and fuelling the drive for China to be uncharacteristically assertive in its dealings with the foreign community. China does not have a sterling record for diplomacy. Its dispute dispute resolution methods with neighbours as evidenced through the border skirmishes it has had over the years, have been through armed force.
Will the stand-offs in Asia continue or will a new US president accomplish something his predecessor could not?
Only time will tell along, with whoever that manages China’s insecurity well enough that it turns away from the cauldron it made the seas surrounding it, to be.