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Fri Apr 6, 2012, 08:21 AM

Small wars loom large on China's horizon


TAIPEI - Broad hints have been coming out of China that the country might start small-scale military strikes over disputed waters that are believed to hold rich energy reserves. The consequences of such endeavors would be tolerable to Beijing, international experts say.

Bitter territorial disputes China has with neighbors in the East and South China Seas have long grabbed media headlines. Virtually all countries in the region are involved in spats with China, from South Korea and Japan to the Philippines and Vietnam. In March alone, Beijing had verbal clashes with Seoul over a submerged rock; with Manila over the Philippines' plan to build a ferry pier; and with Hanoi over China's biggest offshore oil explorer's moves to develop oil and gas fields.

But it wasn't only words: Vietnamese fishing boats were also
seized by China and their crews detained. What all the disputed zones, islands and rocks have in common is that they actually are much nearer to the shores of the rival claimants than to China's.

When strategists speak of the "Malacca Dilemma", they mean that Beijing's sea lines of communications are highly vulnerable. In times of conflict between the US and China, the supply of crude and iron ore needed to keep the Chinese economy alive and kicking could be relatively easily cut off in the straits that connect the Indian Ocean with the Pacific.

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