South China Sea dispute has WWIII potential: lecturer

“Yes, it is potentially World War III,” said David A. Welch, who gave a lecture on the South China Sea dispute at St. Thomas University Friday afternoon.

The South China Sea dispute involves territorial control over disputed islands, creating tension between the United States and China and Southeast Asian nations.

As the tension builds up, China is building infrastructure on these islands, and the United States is sending the Navy to patrol these waters, in order to back “international mediation efforts.” In other words, the United States wants China to leave the islands alone.

While it might seem like there are only two nations jabbing at each other right now, Welch said it could have implications for Canadians, too.

“If conflict breaks out in the South China Sea, it would be a major disruption to the global economy. It would reverberate around the world, and Canadians would not be able to escape the consequences,” Welch said. “We may not be a direct stakeholder in the dispute, but we do have a very strong stake in a peaceful, calm, and orderly international environment.”

You could say Welch is an expert on this topic. He’s the Centre for International Governance Innovation chair in Global Security at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, and professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

During his presentation, Welch discussed the dispute from several points of view. He took into consideration the history of the dispute, the psychology behind it, the law and politics of it all.

While third-year political science student Saru Gupta initially said the situation terrified her, she later said some of the points Welch made about the dispute make her feel more calm.

“Actually, I’m mostly alright with it. His arguments on the eventual calm that will come relative to legal decisions and the psychological factors laying off over time made sense,” she said.

When it comes to the likelihood of a World War III, Gupta isn’t convinced it’s a possibility.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think the UN would let it go that far. Also, it won’t benefit any of the involved parties,” she said. “Well, a full-blown World War III is not something that would pass through the security council at all. Especially because the five permanent members have a veto.”

Philippe Ferland, a fourth-year student with honours in Great Books and a second major in psychology said while he doesn’t think World War III is going to happen, the potential for war is still a problem.

“Well, the potential for war with another super power is always something to be at least concerned with, especially now given rising tensions between both China and Russia, but I’m not too worried about World War III starting tomorrow, and especially not in the South China Sea,” Ferland said.

Jeremy Keats, a student honouring in Great Books and majoring in political science said while he didn’t know much about the dispute before, he said Welch presented the dispute in a way anyone could understand.

“I think he made it clear this is a really high tension part of the world, but it doesn’t look like conflict will happen because they’re so economically tied together,” Keats said.

Keats said he also feels there’s a lack of knowledge as to how Canadians could be affected economically by a conflict.

“We depend on global trade, that’s why we have so many trade deals that are supposed to increase free trade to China and Asian countries,” Keats said. “People don’t understand how we participate in a globalized world.”

Welch said those who don’t know about the issue should get involved in the discussion.

“Any time you have two well-armed nuclear powers on opposite sides of a geo-political issue, you should be seriously concerned that nothing goes wrong,” he said. “Which is all the more reason to elect a president in November who is capable of making sensible, sound decisions on issues like this.”

When asked what Welch thought of the upcoming U.S. election, he gave a vague but honest answer.

“There’s one qualified candidate, and one candidate who scares the hell out of me.”

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