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Obama's Dangerous South China Sea Strategy

October 21, 2013 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

The Obama administration can’t seem to resist the temptation to meddle in the territorial disputes between China and its neighbors over islands (and probable underlying oil and gas riches) in the South China Sea. The latest incident began earlier this year when the Philippines filed an unprecedented arbitration case—over Beijing’s strenuous objections—regarding the issue with the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea. Instead of remaining quiet on the matter, as prudence would dictate, Secretary of State John Kerry ostentatiously weighed in at the East Asia Summit on October 10 in Brunei.

In remarks to leaders at the gathering, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Kerry tacitly backed Manila’s arbitration ploy and its underlying territorial claim. “All claimants have a responsibility to clarify and align their claims with international law. They can engage in arbitration and other means of peaceful negotiations.” In a passage implicitly rebuking Beijing’s extraordinarily broad assertions of sovereign rights in the South China Sea, Kerry added that “freedom of navigation and overflight is a linchpin of security in the Pacific.”

Washington’s imprudent support for a weak treaty ally could ultimately embroil the United States in a nasty confrontation with an increasingly powerful China.”

This was hardly the first time that Washington has taken a stance that seemingly embodies an “anyone but China” attitude regarding the South China Sea controversy. During President Obama’s first term, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made remarks during a high-profile visit to Vietnam that appeared sympathetic to that country’s claims as well as a bid for bilateral strategic cooperation.

But it is the Obama administration’s support for Manila and its claims that is the most provocative. During a November 2011 East Asian economic summit in Bali, President Obama went out of his way to emphasize the importance of the long-standing U.S. military alliance with the Philippines and pledged to strengthen those ties. Just a day earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck the same theme during remarks in Manila, asserting that “the United States will always be in the corner of the Philippines and we will stand and fight with you.” That comment was combative enough in the abstract, but it became even more so when she juxtaposed it with comments about the South China Sea dispute elsewhere in her speech. “Any nation with a claim has the right to assert it,” Clinton stated, “but they …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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