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A cold war is heating up in the South China Sea

22 3 17

Washington – I spent most of my seagoing career in the Pacific, and sailed many times through the humid waters of the South China Sea. It’s a big body of water, the size of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico combined. The sea bottom is full of oil and natural gas. Nearly 40 percent of the world’s international shipping passes through it.

The historical underpinnings of China’s claims go back to the voyages of a 15th century admiral, Zheng He. I wrote about him in my recent book, “Sailing True North,” and every time I met my Chinese counterparts at port visits and exercises, they would toast Zheng He. And with good reason. His explorations of the South China Sea, Indian Ocean and African and Arabian waters are legendary.

To push back against Chinese claims, the U.S. Navy conducts so-called freedom of navigation patrols, designed to demonstrate that these are international waters — “high seas” in the parlance of international law.

These patrols can be tense. A couple of decades ago, when I was a commodore in command of a group of destroyers there, several of my........

© The Japan Times