III. Maritime Power 2.0: The South China Sea dilemma

[work in progress]

20141218-okosi-web_large_580scs-impact singapore


It hurts. It’s been difficult, to the point of exhaustion. Each time I try to talk to my fellow Singaporeans about the militarisation of the South China Sea I get rolled eyes. Rife on their Facebook walls are reminders of the bubble they exist in.

The first American Consul, Joseph Balestier, established the consulate in his house on Serangoon Road in 1836. He also owned a sugar plantation called Balestier Plantation on Balestier Plain. Today, Balestier Road runs alongside what used to be his sugar estate. #‎USSG50#‎TBT


China claims most of the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.

emeans to Singapor, the place where I was born. A place I’ve called home for most of my life.

China’s ‘Sea Phantom’ Fleet Prowls the Open Waters [Feb 2016]

This island provided salvation for my grandfather’s flight from China during its civil war. It survived Syonan-To after British complacency This island provided opportunity for my father to rise from the son of a dried goods business to become a local stationery legend.



http://globalnation.inquirer.net/119660/in-photos-chinas-construction-of-military-bases-in-south-china-sea [March 17, 2015]

https://medium.com/satellite-image-analysis/china-s-new-military-installations-in-the-spratly-islands-satellite-image-update-1169bacc07f9#.ev8be52hy [March 16, 2015]

http://www.unz.com/plee/good-news-world-you-can-stop-worrying-about-the-south-china-sea/ [Jan 23, 2016]

The South China Sea seems to be militarising big time (check out: the Diplomat, Channel News Asia, Reuters, Al Jazeera and Lowy Interpreter). But who cares? In the global theatre of risk – the middle East and North Africa take the bulk of

As someone born in Singapore I’m inclined to think any conflict in those waters will hurt Singapore’s livelihood somewhat despite its oft-stated food security measures. But that’s just relative locally to Singapore. In the regional scheme of things, is the SCS really such an ‘indispensable artery for commercial shipping’?

When two great powers joustle for maritime power in the sea bridge that connects East and West, Singapore’s fundamental challenge is to keep the balance of US-China power in its immediate region in check. The densely packed city state of 710km2 at the most crucial choke point of the world’s busiest shipping lanes can ill afford anything that threatens stability in the region. Being hinterland-less and overwhelmingly dependent on trade to drive its economy, arm itself and feed its people, there is no question from the realist perspective that regional stability is a fundamental need for the city-state to go beyond its 50 years since separating from Malaysia.

This section attempts to highlight Singapore’s chief foreign policy concern as it marked fifty years of independence in 2015 – its continuing bipolar dilemma over the balance of US-China power in South-East Asia. Under founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, the island city-state’s survivability was secured by positioning itself as best friend to both the US and China in the region. A falling out between the existing and rising great power is especially ominous for the hinterland-less tiny state.

Has Thucydile’s Trap been sprung? And if so – what is Singapore doing about it? It is completely in Singapore’s self-interest to prevent conflict as it is almost wholly dependent on regional geo-political stability for its continued survival. With South China Sea maritime tensions and Chinese economic diplomacy rising in South East Asia, the Pax Americana status quo is under threat. What is Singapore doing to ensure peace and stability in a region where 60% of the world’s trade traffic passes through? Singapore is small and like any tiny state, its future fragile. By looking closely at the recent South China Sea flashpoints and the establishment of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank that funds China’s ‘Belt and Road’ projection of soft power into one of the world’s most dynamic regions, I hope to shed light on China’s foreign policy intentions in my home region.

For China, it’s simple – secure maritime power or suffer another round of humiliation. So, its either go to war with Japan (with the US) or the Philippines (with the US). A fallout in the East China Sea is more deadly to China’s interests. Without a route out of China its ever growing navy remains trapped in a frog’s well. Securing the South China Sea is the only other option.


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