With war imminent in Iraq, terrorism plaguing Southeast Asia and North Korean nuclear threats moving to the front burner, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea appear distant, not a top regional or international concern. But it would be a mistake to ignore the long-simmering disputes in the Spratly Islands. These disputes hold the seeds for conflict and could erupt at any time.
Indeed, we need only look back to China’s moves into Mischief Reef in the middle and late 1990s, when the region was distracted by the Asian financial crisis. Similar international turmoil today could provide cover for new island takeovers and set the stage for armed conflict between the claimants.
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