US’ wishful strategy over South China Sea won’t work out

By Chen Xiangmiao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/8/5 20:53:40

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Since Donald Trump took office, the US government has been working tirelessly to adjust its security strategy in the Western Pacific region with the South China Sea issue as a rallying point. It hopes to set up a multilateral network aimed at ganging up on China.

The US has gradually formed a South China Sea plan with careful deployments, clear steps, and explicit orientation. This plan was demonstrated in a high-profile way through US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's statement over South China Sea on July 13.

The statement is a further step to build up a security network proposed in the Indo-Pacific Strategy report. The US is trying to force Southeast Asian countries to make a choice between China and the US. The US is also attempting to form a maritime alliance with its allies outside of the South China Sea, such as Japan and Australia, to neutralize China's influence in the region.

However, will the US' wishful plan work out?

For Southeast Asian countries, China has been the largest trading partner of the ASEAN for 10 consecutive years. In the post-pandemic era, economic recovery and trade cooperation will be the focus between China and Southeast Asian countries.

Currently, Australia and Japan seem to be US' most reliable partners to contain China in the South China Sea. Nonetheless, the Australian government seems to only wind up behind the US over the issues of the South China Sea. It fully supports the US policy in terms of military actions and foreign policy.

Quite different from Australia, Japan's interests and demands concerning the South China Sea are highly complicated. On one hand, Japan needs to cooperate with the US to contain China in order to achieve its own strategic security. While on the other, Japan hopes to use the South China Sea issue to expand its political and military influence in the region. 

When the US adjusts its strategy in the South China Sea, Japan always responds actively, such as by participating in joint military exercises and assisting the US with support for Vietnam. 

For example, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICAR) signed an agreement with Vietnam on July 28, offering a 40-year loan of $348.2 million to Hanoi for the purchase of six patrol vessels to enhance its maritime capacities.

Japan hopes to take advantage of US' plan of building a network in the South China Sea, expand its military and political presence in the region as well as distract China from the East China Sea. In addition, since Japan wants to restore the maritime hegemony in the South China Sea it had during WWII, it is likely to make greater efforts to attain itself an important role in the political and security order of the region.

In order to realize its long-term military presence in the South China Sea, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force has been hoping to build military bases in the coastal areas of the Philippines and Vietnam. Once it gets the consent of the US and others, Japan would not miss the chance to extend its military coverage. 

From this perspective, although the US has showed friendly gestures to the countries around the South China Sea, obviously they are not excellent choices for the US to form a united front in the region. The US' plan to contain China still depends on its alliance system inherited from the Cold War. However, without the support of regional countries, the US' wishful plan in the region is doomed to fail.

The US is disguising itself as a hero who safeguards the regional peace and stability. But in essence, it is drawing countries around the South China Sea into great-power competition. The US is de facto the root cause of escalating tensions in the region. 

When China and ASEAN members insist on establishing a rules-based order in the South China Sea, the two sides should stay alert of unilateral moves in which some regional claimant countries may secretly collude with the US. This can be disastrous to regional situation. 

The author is an assistant research fellow at National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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