The world's two greatest powers are competing for military dominance of the western Pacific Ocean and the contest is about to intensify. The US and China are each jockeying for advantage as they anticipate a quickening in a struggle that "has the potential to escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time, if not history", according to Malaysia's Defence Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein.
An important ruling from the International Court of Justice in the Hague is expected in the weeks ahead. It will rule on a claim by a US ally, the Philippines, to sovereignty over reefs that are also claimed by China. Most experts expect the ruling, due by the end of June, will favour the Philippines. Beijing has warned it will not recognise the court's jurisdiction.
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