FEATURED | US and China are they Trapped in Thucydides? by Ipshita Bhattacharya

FEATURED | US and China are they Trapped in Thucydides? by Ipshita Bhattacharya

FEATURED | US and China are they Trapped in Thucydides? by Ipshita Bhattacharya

By Ipshita Bhattacharya

The Thucydides Trap Theory primarily talks about the fear, threats and suspicions resulting in the Peloponnesian war (431-404 B.C.) between two great empires of Athens and Peloponnesian league led by Sparta. This echo from history has a significant meaning in today’s world order too. Which says that the important components to trigger war are fear, suspicion and threat; this article will therefore critically explore the potential factors of fear, suspicion and threats between United States and China. Obstacles and opportunities plays a very important role in ruining and building relationship between two Nations, where obstacles defines the fear, suspicions, and threats and opportunities defines the confidence building measures.   China and USA at present are thriving on conditional relations with lots of unresolved issues at their backyard like cyber security, South China Sea, membership friction over China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank etc, along with their institutional differences. This article will focus mainly on China’s engineering prowess in the South China Sea (SCS) and the fear factor behind her actions. As the old adage goes that the best defense is a good offense pertaining to which China is projecting military power and territorial claims in SCS. Beijing’s aggressive naval policy is a strategic defence mechanism arising out of fear, suspicion and threat from Washington’s involvement in the region. Since, therefore, China is most sincerely propelling the dominating agenda of establishing its military power play in the South China Sea marginalising UNCLOS (United Nations Common Laws of The Sea).

China’s Prowess in South China Sea (SCS):

US and China countries with extreme ideologies with different forms of political institutions, but they share one thing in common i.e. hectoring around with a strong arms show. This being probably the cause behind the fear, suspicion and feeling threatened by each other which may pull them in to the Thucydides Trap. China with its meteoric economic growth and mutating political interest wants to bridle Asia.  The strategic territorial aggression has shown by Beijing in the South China Sea in the recent years distinctly points towards an absolute long term schedule.  Apart from the territorial and jurisdictional claim dispute with Southeast Asian Nations (SEA) in the SEA region, China also shares a contentious issue of freedom of navigation with US in the region. On the other hand US want an unhindered access of navigation in the International waters of SCS on the commercial front and also looking forward for its hegemony in the region through its military ties and alliances with the SEA countries. China’s modernisation of its naval power and embarking on jurisdictional claims in the SCS apprehends clearly a defense mechanism of fear, suspicion and threat on her part. China with its growing economic and cultural relations with ASEAN fears and feels threaten by the US presence in the region. The reason behind this fear may be that China wants to play the intimidating role in the region and hence do not want any political interference of US Status and might. China’s extending outposts in the SCS for stationing ships, important airfields; building of artificial island to use them as military bases speaks about its determinant attitude to rule the waters[1]. According to IHS Jane China has started building an airstrip on an island which is adequate to hold fighter jets and surveillance aircraft. This navigational aggression on one hand and political diplomacy on the other reveals the fine wedged strategy of China.  Last year there were reports on Chinese Su-27 fighter jet intercepting US P-8 Poseidon ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) over the Hainan Island (SCS region) performing “Barrel Roll “ a manoeuvre to show its might and deterrence[2], Perhaps as the old byword goes the best defence is offence. This open show of military artistry might perhaps determine the hidden fear of China which she palpates by the presence of US in the region.

The latest candid operation by the Chinese in provoking the security status in the SCS is the fourth test in eighteen months of a hypersonic nuclear delivery vehicle, a hypersonic glide vehicle “WU-14” which the US called an “extreme manoeuvre,” amid rising stress between the two powers in the South China Sea. This strike weapon is exceedingly advanced and can travel at ten times the speed of sound making it extremely hard to strike down.  However China has claimed it as a scheduled scientific technological test and the tests are not being targeted to any area specific specified goal.

The conflicting claims over chain of islands in the SCS by various South East Asian countries and Washington’s military alliances with these countries raises deep concern for China. There for to overcome her adrenal rush China is aggressively following her serious ambitions for SCS by making big progressive territorial reclamations and military projects, to prepare herself for a vanquish military conflicts in a given situation of war, moreover Beijing also knows that once US is done with her smart diplomacy theory of persuasion will likely to land up into some concrete closure which may be caustic for China. Consequently, China wants to speed up all her unfinished projects before the International community acts, moreover, in this way she is trying to establish her rhetoric historic claim of over 90% sovereignty over SCS regardless of overlapping claims by the various claimants. On the other part for US it won’t be easy to challenge an economically and militarily rising China. The strengthening of its navy and developing fifth generation fighter aircrafts vigorously which includes stealth fighter programme prototype J-20 by CAC (Chengdu Aircraft Corporation) China is definitely a point of concern for USA. But emphatically, the inaction of USA, giving it a broad brush attention and accommodating China on this issue will not only give China a boost to carry on with her ambitions in SCS but also make Beijing more explicit and direct. As China is all set to rise geopolitically by intimidating the small claimants in the SCS will surely not tolerate US in the waters, as Beijing realizes US as a potential threat, because of her presence and pivot in Asia since long time. No doubt new dubieties of China and US in SCS have brought tremendous uncertainties into their strategic stability theory. However, the chances of Sino-US war are definitely distant but looking into China’s military preparation explains her planning for a specific destination, as fear and threat in belly always grow insecurity which leads to expressed actions.

[1]“China “Aggressively” Expanding into South China Sea Says US.  ” The Guardian on the web, 27 February 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/27/china-aggressively-expanding-into-south-china-sea-says-us

[2] Craig Whitlock. “Pentagon: China tried to block US Military Jet in Dangerous mid air Intercept, ” The Washington Post on the web, 22 August 2014,http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-china-tried-to-block-us-military-jet-in-dangerous-mid-air-intercept/2014/08/22/533d24e8-2a1b-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html 
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