Ominous Cold War nostalgia in South China Sea

It's hard to imagine it could come to a shooting war in this age of economic interpenetration, but both sides are sure acting like they're itching for one. Weeks after Obama announced what the media have dubbed the Pentagon's "return to Asia" (we call it a New Cold War with China), Russia and China team up for joint naval maneuvers in the Yellow Sea, northern inlet of the East China Sea. (See map.) Simultaneously, the US and Philippine navies hold their own joint exercises in the South China Sea, a drill dubbed "Balikatan," meaning"shoulder-to-shoulder" in the Tagalog language. Both dills involve multiple warships and thousands of troops. The Sino-Russian drill is being carried out under the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional body established after the Soviet collapse to counter-balance the US presence in Asia and the Pacific.

Just last week, China released 21 Vietnamese fishermen detained for more than a month on a disputed island in the South China Sea. Chinese security forces intercepted the fishermen’s two boats in early March near the disputed Paracel Islands, known in China as the Xisha Islands. The Paracels are held by China but claimed by Vietnam. (See map.) (, April 21; MSNBC, April 20)

March also saw a near-skirmish between Chinese and Philippine forces in the South China Sea (which Manila prefers to call the West Philippine Sea) after a Chinese fishing fleet was caught fishing in the Scarborough Shoal, which is claimed by both nations. The Philippine Coast Guard boarded the Chinese vessels, but quickly retreated when the People's Liberation Navy arrived on the scene with three ships.

A third disputed territory in the South China Sea is the Spratly Islands, claimed by China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. This is a potential flashpoint between Beijing and Taiwan—which maintains military forces on the archipelago's largest island, Itu Aba. (Sun Star, Bacolod, Philippines, April 21)

After the Scarborough Shoal incident, presumed Philippine hackers attacked several Chinese websites, leaving the slogans "Scarborough Shoal is ours!" and "Spratly Islands is ours!" (GMA News, April 21) But Philippine anti-militarists meanwhile held protests against the Balikatan exercises in Zamboanga City, Mindinao, especially citing ecological damage. The burning of a US flag capped the April 19 protest, despite a heavy police and army presence. (Zamboanga Today, April 20; Inquirer Mindanao, April 19; Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 17)

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Take note: Before Philippine hackers attacked chinese websites. The Chinese hackers do it first!

Sino-Filipino cyber wars

Yes, the Philippine Daily Inquirer informs us that a few days ago hackers defaced the website of the University of the Philippines with the slogan "We come from China! Huangyan Island is Ours!" We assume that Huangyan Island is what the Chinese call Scarborough Shoal.

Chinese hackers have been very busy of late...

Asian powers get missile envy

Predictably, North Korea's unsuccessful launch of a long-range rocket earlier this month and subsequent bouts of bellicose rhetoric (threatening to reduce South Korea's government "to ashes," according to AP, April 23) stirred more global hysteria than India's successful launch of its first long-range rocket into the Indian Ocean this week—except in China and Pakistan, of course. This was likely more India's bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council than an actual threat to incinerate Beijing or Islamabad. But Pakistan wasted no time in announcing that it will conduct its own "long-range missile test in the Indian Ocean" to match India's Agni-V test. (Deccan Chronicle, April 24) Meanwhile, as Russia and China are busy in the East China Sea and the US and Philippines are busy in the South China Sea, India teams up with its own satellites Sri Lanka and the Maldives for joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. (Colombo Page, April 23)

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War responds to this outburst of missile envy by releasing a new report entitled "Nuclear Famine," warning that even "a limited, regional nuclear war (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) would cause significant climate disruption around the globe, leading to a sharp decline in agricultural production...that could trigger a famine jeopardizing the already precarious lives of the nearly one billion malnourished people on earth." (PR Newswire, April 24) A charming convergence of the climate crisis, the nuclear threat and "peak food"...