Wars, Rumors of Wars, and Fish
If you have not paid attention to the Chinese presence in the South China Sea, here is a very brief explanation: After China recovered form the communist era and become wealthy by being the world’s manufacturer, leaders decided to rebuild their military to become a regional or hemispheric dominant power. They also decided to grab some resources. As part of both plans, they announced they owned the South China Sea (a vast ocean, parts of which are claimed by a handful of other nations). They sent in their navy, chased off others, and planted their flags on microscopic islands. They then dredged up huge amounts of sand, coral, and sediment, and essentially created large new islands, complete with military facilities and warplane-ready runways. Other nations sued and an international court recently ruled in their favor, saying China didn’t own the South China Sea. China ignored the ruling. The newly-minted president Trump today announced through his spokesman that the US would “prevent China” from taking any territory in international water, which the international court says is what the South China Sea is. The only way to “prevent” China from taking the territory is to blockade the islands, forbidding access. This is tantamount to threatening an act of war, which is exactly how the experts assess that China sees it. They also expect China would react by declaring war on the US if the US were to carry out this threat.
So, here we are. Is Trump bluffing and blustering? Or does his administration truly believe that threatening an act of war is the right path for their China foreign policy at this point? Since both Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, and now Trump himself have articulated this position, it seems more policy than bluster.
I was in China when the US accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, in 1999. I saw the response on the streets. “Unhinged” is a mild characterization. To call Chinese nationalism “fervent” is not nearly strong enough. A US military action of any kind against China, whether blockade or strike, will bring about an unhinged response on the street level and will likely bring an unhinged response at the executive level. On the other hand, blockading China in their own sea may just be an unhinged plan to begin with.
There is no telling how this will play out. The Trump Whitehouse has, with great intentionality, weaponized unpredictability and destabilization. It is a strategy with huge risks and the absolute assurance of unforeseen consequences. More than anything else, though, it tells us that we are in an age of prophetic fulfillment. In Matthew 24:6 Christ tells His disciples that the final days will be filled with “wars and rumors of wars”. We can understand that this means we will see and hear of great amounts of potential conflict accompanied by great amounts of actual conflict. Experts say they’ve never seen a situation where we have as many “pots boiling” in terms of conflict as we have now. This is rumors of war. It won’t take much to make many of the pots boil over, especially if the US stops being the policeman of the world. Then we’d have not rumors, but wars. That is the frame from what is happening in the South China Sea and, interestingly, fish play a role in what may be a contest between super-powers.
You see, life in the ocean is in steep decline all over the world. Commercial harvests are expect to cease completely in less than 30 years, and many species are already commercially extinct. China is one of the biggest consumers of sea products in the world on a per-capita basis and will account for almost 40% of all fish consumption in the world by 2030. But since the ocean is essentially dying and yields less fish every year, China can’t get the fish it wants from the ocean it has. So it grabbed more ocean and will have more fish. This is, of course, a vast oversimplification. There were a great number of reasons China tried to claim the entire South China Sea. But fish were not a small part of their calculation, and they will fight to keep the dwindling resource they now possess.
There are, of course, knock-on effects. The fishermen from Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines who are now chased off by naval vessels are spreading out to other waters and pressuring dwindling fish stocks in those waters. And all nations within the region (including Korea and Japan) are on tenterhooks, watching China, watching Trump, and trying to decide if they stand a better chance of survival by being invisible, or joining in a war on one side or another, should it come. These are the times we now live in.