An Australian think tank is warning that China's aggressive patrolling in the South China Sea could ignite a war. Chinese ships have harassed — and even allegedly rammed — ships from Vietnam and the Philippines, turning the waters into "a danger zone," says the Lowy Institute report. Though China claims sovereignty over the South China Sea, other nations have staked claims to parts of it, including islands perched atop big oil and natural gas deposits. (The sea is sometimes referred to as the "Second Persian Gulf.") With so much at stake, is war inevitable?

All sides are certainly preparing for the worst: "China is indeed serious" about its claims on the disputed islands, says Mark Valencia at The Japan Times, even though its legal case is weak, and its bullying is undermining its recent "charm offensive" toward its neighbors. And the other countries involved are in no position to back down: Vietnam is holding live-fire drills and "rare anti-China protests" are erupting in Hanoi and Manila. "At this point, all one can say is hold on to your hat."
"South China Sea: Making sense of nonsense"

You can bet America would douse any conflict: "With China showing greater willingness to use a muscular approach," says Daniel Alpert at EconoMonitor, another powerful nation has to step up as a counterweight. The Japanese, who have their own problems, can't do it. That leaves the U.S. to intervene — if it "cares about Asia's balance of power" — and get involved in these territorial disputes.
"Think tank: China's assertiveness could lead to armed conflict in Asia"

But America might not want this fight: China just flexed new naval muscle by launching its first aircraft carrier, says Peter Goodspeed at Canada's National Post, and is planning to start drilling for oil in some of the disputed areas this July. Though the U.S. Senate this week condemned China's use of force against rival ships, China has warned Washington to stay out of the dispute or avoid getting "burned." Staring down Beijing is an increasingly dangerous game and one the U.S. might not want to play.
"Chinese aircraft carrier enters geopolitical tempest"