4
Mar

Is This the United States' Grand Plan for Responding to China in the South China Sea?

It’s certainly been an interesting week in the South China Sea, with reports that China moved coast guard vessels into Jackson Shoal, driving Filipino fishermen out and effectively asserting control over that feature. China’s latest bout of assertion comes not long after it re-stationed J-11 fighters and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island, days after ASEAN leaders met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the United States.

On Wednesday, two reports caught my eye that reveal a growing coalition and network of Asian powers to counter Chinese assertiveness in Asian waters, certainly the South China Sea. Incidentally, both these reports stem from comments and observations made recently by Admiral Harry B. Harris, the outspoken head of U.S. Pacific Command, at a security conference in New Delhi, India. (Harris’ prepared remarks are available here.)

The first, reported in Reuters, notes that India, the United States, and Japan will be holding their first trilateral naval exercise in the South China Sea, off the northern coast of Philippines. While a location isn’t specified for the exercise, it is likely that it will take place either in or off Subic Bay, where the United States once had a permanent naval base and now enjoys base access rights under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Act (EDCA) with the Philippines.

Harris underlined India’s record with international law and maritime disputes to explain Washington’s interest in having New Delhi participate in the exercise: ”While some countries seek to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, I note with admiration India’s example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean,” he said.

The second report, in the New York Times, cites Harris bringing up a concept in Asian security that’s been out of vogue for nearly a decade, namely the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) between the United States, Australia, Japan, and India. In a commentary in 2014, I’d declared the QSD “gone and forgotten.” Harris’ comments suggest my eulogy may have been premature. The QSD was actually a pet project for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his first stint leading Japan, back in 2006-2007. He’ll be glad to see it back on the docket.

Abe, who came to office in 2006 with a pessimistic view of China’s rise, saw Beijing as a threat to Japanese interests and proposed the QSD as a means by which to spur dialogue on sustaining Asia’s status quo security apparatus. China saw the initiative as a conspiracy by a concert of democracies to inhibit its “peaceful rise” (that language was very much in vogue at the time), and the initiative fell apart. Kevin Rudd’s Australia, in particular, was hesitant to risk good ties with China over the QSD, which at the time had a modest scope. Abe himself left office after a lackluster one-year term. Read more…

 

March 3rd, http://thediplomat.com/

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