Can a Political Crisis Close Strait of Hormuz and South China Sea?



Last week, Iran had threatened to close oil shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most important maritime choke points, if the U.S. proceeds with further military drills in the area.

If Iran is talking of doing it today, a Forbes article came out with a provocative question about whether China will come up with similar threats in the not too distant future in the South China Sea.

The Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz are crucial not just to regional security, but also to the global economy.  Tankers carrying nearly 20% of the world’s oil  per day pass through the strait.  The strait is also a key conduit for shipments of liquefied natural gas, especially from Qatar.  For countries that import oil or gas — including the United States, developed Asian economies, and increasingly, China — keeping Hormuz open to maritime traffic is crucial.

Iran’s Strait of Hormuz threat

According to an April 9 Reuters report, The U.S. Navy is leading a 30-nation maritime exercise across Middle Eastern waters which it says will help protect international trade routes against possible threats, including from piracy and terrorism.

The exercise, according to Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, was designed to stop militants from causing disruption to shipping as, “we know that they want to disturb trade lines.”

“Threats are easy to make,” said Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  But, he said, in the event of any Iranian effort to mine the Persian Gulf or to block the Strait of Hormuz, Washington has a lot more tools in its arsenal than minesweepers — and that could be enough to dissuade Iran from ever seriously trying.

Beijing’s South China Sea agenda

As China continues to build on its reclaimed reefs, islets and formations in the South China Sea as well as placing military assets on these new formations.  In the not too distant future, in name of national sovereignty, it might have claimed major portion of South China Sea. This can result in China gaining de facto control of the waterway while also minimizing U.S. naval influence in the region, effectively pushing the U.S. further away from China’s periphery.

In a span of just a few years, if China’s current land reclamation push goes unchallenged and unabated, headlines will likely read “China Threatens to Close Vital Oil Shipping Lanes in South China Sea: U.S. Offers Muted Response.”

If so, Beijing will have control of one of the most important shipping lanes in the world, while freedom of navigation in the area will only be a dream whose days have vanished.

Reference: Forbes, Stripes


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