Europe’s navies are returning to Asia in a move that could either inflame or help keep tensions under control. Britain and France have deployed warships to the contested South China Sea and announced that more are on their way.
For the West it is a natural culmination of Donald Trump’s trade war, the European Union redefinition of China as a systemic rival and the necessary reaction to Beijing’s open violation of the rules-based order by building military bases in international waters.
But for Beijing this scenario conjures up the 19th century spectre of foreign gunboats invading its shores that led to its Century of Humiliation. […]