You have to go read Jame Fallows’ alarming piece on a crazy threat by Hainan officials, who claim sovereignty over a vast swath of the South China Sea reaching almost all the way down to Brunei (!).
If you’re worn out worrying about Syria, Gaza, Iran, you name it, I give you: the announcement today by police on China’s large southern island of Hainan that, starting on January 1, they will assert a right to stop and board any vessel they consider to have violated China’s very expansive claim of territorial waters in the South China Sea.
….For months, Chinese patrol boats and other craft have scuffled with foreign vessels, mainly from the Philippines and most often over contested fishing grounds. But an assertion from officials in Hainan that they can stop and board any vessel passing through these waters is something quite different. The US Navy has had a lot of different missions over the centuries, but one of its elemental purposes has been defending freedom-of-navigation on the high seas. The Seventh Fleet is the regnant military power in this area. I am usually in the “oh calm down” camp about frictions, especially military, between China and America. But it is easy to imagine things becoming dangerous, quickly, if the new Chinese administration actually tries to carry out this order.
You have to see the map of China’s territorial claims to believe it. Let’s hope Xi shows us early on that he’s a reasonable leader devoted to China’s peaceful rise by scrapping this idiotic plan.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.