As the U.S. navy and rival Asian claimants respond to China’s building of military-grade infrastructure on disputed islands, heightened risks of conflict raise alarm bells over destabilization in a vital arena of global trade. The world awaits the deliberation of the Hague on the matter, but its decision will have little impact on China’s actions, which are anchored by Beijing’s grand ambitions to secure an unrivaled commercial empire throughout Eurasia and Africa.
The tropical warm waters of the South China Sea betray an idyllic calm, but the region has become the center of a great international flashpoint. Developing what were once half submerged reefs into sizable islands, China has frenetically reclaimed and built 3200 acres of new territory on the islands within its control. In addition, it has built sizable military and civilian infrastructure that have decisively tipped the fragile balance of power in the hotly contested region.