ASIA has enjoyed comparative stability in the chaotic years since the cold war. But the rise of China is now challenging that, as American dominance of the western Pacific fades. Comparisons of Asia to the Europe of 1914 are part of a bigger question about whether China just wants to be a benign regional hegemon, or if it has expansionist aims.
At the heart of the debate are the islands of the East and South China Seas, where China’s behaviour seems to indicate its broader intentions. At first glance, it does not look good. China has increasingly emphasised its sovereignty over all islands within a “nine-dash line” stretching over the whole South China Sea. Its military budget grew this year by 12%. It has moved its main submarine base to Hainan island on the sea’s northern edge, and it is beefing up its maritime enforcement agencies.
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