A Draft from the South China Sea Papers
By Marvin Ott
The South China Sea through the second half of the 20th century was predominantly a domain of international peace and stability – with one brief exception. This picture of tranquility began to erode in small ways and with increasing frequency during the last decade – but it did not change dramatically until quite recently. This history is remarkable given the extensive and multifaceted conflicts that raged across Southeast Asia during the early Cold War culminating in a decade-long conflagration in Vietnam. Most of the U.S. war effort was supplied by sea including a robust connection with the giant American naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines. As recently as 1979 China sent thirty army divisions into northern Vietnam in response to a Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Throughout the entire period China remained poised in a state of suspended civil war with Taiwan. As late as the mid-1990s those tensions produced live Chinese missile launches off Taiwan and a counter deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers. The Philippines was embroiled in both a communist insurgency and a Muslim secessionist movement with a strong presence in the Sulu archipelago. Indonesia went through a massive domestic upheaval in the mid-1960s initiated by the Indonesian communist party with covert weapons support (by sea) from China.