Did Hanoi just follow up Trump’s China play?

Donald Trump has been pulling the tail of the Chinese dragon for more than a year, stirring up voters with fears of China’s economic strength, and by openly siding with Japan and the Philippines in the Games of Zones, the struggle for control of the resource-rich waters of the China Seas.

In the contest over the Asian waters, four nations have been staking claims and planting bases, but most of the attention has been focused China’s expansion of reefs into air bases, and starting with a campaign speech fifteen months ago, Trump indicated he opposed China’s policy, while making no mention of the roles played by the other nations.

Barack Obama had added this own fuel to the fire, as American jet fighters skirted air space claimed by China, while in September the administration hinted at stronger measures to come.

But Trump’s anti-China rhetoric has been far more provocative, hinting at both economic warfare and a more aggressive military stance.

And with his phone conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, breaking four decades of precedent, he further angered Beijing.

And now, it seems, Vietnam is stepping up the pressure.

From Reuters:

Vietnam has begun dredging work on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, satellite imagery shows, the latest move by the Communist state to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway.

Activity visible on Ladd Reef in the Spratly Islands could anger Hanoi’s main South China Sea rival, Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the group and most of the resource-rich sea.

Ladd Reef, on the south-western fringe of the Spratlys, is completely submerged at high tide but has a lighthouse and an outpost housing a small contingent of Vietnamese soldiers. The reef is also claimed by Taiwan.

In an image taken on Nov. 30 and provided by U.S.-based satellite firm Planet Labs, several vessels can be seen in a newly dug channel between the lagoon and open sea.

While the purpose of the activity cannot be determined for certain, analysts say similar dredging work has been the precursor to more extensive construction on other reefs.

The game is heating up, and with an unpredictable buffoon in the White House, the fire next time could be nuclear.


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