Is the occupation of the South China Sea by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the equivalent of the German militarization of the Rhineland in 1934? Will there be a Taiwanese Anschluss like the annexation of Austria in 1938 which followed the Rhineland operation?
Can world peace last if the world gives China a Munich-like deal? These questions are not idle historical speculation. Our new spatial analysis suggests that China is poised to move its strategic goalposts again and soon, reminding of the momentous events of the 1930s.
In 2016, the PRC effectively annexed the South China Sea. That year, China refused the findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague regarding the Chinese occupation of several reefs and islands and the extension of Chinese maritime borders over 1,000 miles away from the mainland. The court found China in violation of international law; The unilateral declaration of sovereignty over a portion of the high seas is not only contrary to the international laws as signed by China but an indication of hostility.
Since then, China has maintained control over the islands and the surrounding areas by force, elbowing out or even sinking ships seen as a threat. In historical terms, it is equivalent to Germany’s occupation of the demilitarized Rheinland in 1934, in contradiction to the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Is this a momentary crisis or a sign of future trouble? Our geostrategic investigation suggests that a crisis on par to that which preceded World War II could be expected.
Just like in 1934, the great world powers, including the United States, let the 2016 event pass with no more than some diplomatic declarations. The only contemporary nuances are the freedom of navigation operations of the great power navies.