Meanwhile, in the South China Sea

Google Earth has been the void into which many hours have been gleefully cast. My list of “Places” exists as a carefully curated tour of places I have been or points of interest which I wish to visit one day. From where I attended Basic Training in 1996, to the tiny island in the middle of a Thai reservoir I was deposited on for an impromptu photo shoot, to Landing Zones (LZ’s) on Oahu which were fond memories of days when we were brave beyond our years, the ability to browse locations via archived satellite imagery continues to be fascinating…

17°13’44.89″ N 98°54’48.44″ E, also known as “LZ Peterson,” in case you were curious. Thailand, 1997 (Source: author)

Much like today.

I shifted my attention from the shipbreaking beach in Alang, India (21°23’38.48″ N  72°11’17.38″ E, for those who appreciate cringeworthy examples of industrialization gone awry) to a completely different point of naval fascination: the much contested Fiery Cross Reef (9°33’02.34″ N 112°53’25.96″ E).

Not too long ago, this location was instrumental in a post where I was mulling over the progression of power and influence:

Another example might be suggested by the 1987 UNESCO request for China to build meteorological stations on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea – igniting the diplomatic and military tensions in the region which continue to this day.

My own appreciation of the strategic significance of this – and many others in the region – has been passing and academic. The militarization of these tiny reefs thousands of miles away poses little direct threat to my own daily life, after all… right?

Then, I cycled through the years of that one location…

25Mar2014 (Source: Google Earth)
22Nov2014 (Source: Google Earth)
4Mar2015 (Source: Google Earth)
7Jan2016 (Source: Google Earth)
16Mar2019 (Source: Google Earth)

Those subscribers of this blog who appreciate naval strategy and have given the Spratlys the same amount of attention that I have are probably having the same reaction I did: “Oh. Crap…. Wait… that looks like Midway or Wake during the Second World War… Oh crap.” For others, I offer a bit of perspective – according to some estimates, “$3.4 trillion in trade passed through the South China Sea in 2016.” Geographically, the South China Sea offers efficient and economic access for maritime sea lines of communication (SLOC), while being a potential choke point where access can be regulated or denied by the largest naval presence in the region. Both World Wars proved the vulnerability of maritime shipping to all major combatants, with Japan being the best example of the slow logistic strangulation via unrestricted submarine warfare.  

From the same post, and for emphasis:

Progressive antagonism – a means to push the limits almost to the point of conflict, then backing off in either probing to find where our boundaries are or – like teenagers – the hopes that any gains established once that boundary is found, can be claimed as a form of acquiescence to the demands of the powers-that-be.

Why should any of this matter to the average person?

Most folks don’t pay much attention beyond headlines, so I am not fooling myself that anything I write would change their minds much beyond where they are comfortable. I write because I have ideas… some good, some bad, and some are mere speculation.

We shall see what this means… Regardless, I will inevitably find myself revisiting the coordinates in the wee hours of the night…

[Update]

I forgot to include other reefs which are part of the “Great Wall of Sand“:

Mischief Reef at 9°55’44.06″ N 115°31’33.63″ E (Source: Google Earth)
Subi Reef at 10°55’31.34″ N 114°05’05.63″ E (Source: Google Earth)

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