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Is America about to Make a Fatal Mistake in the South China Sea?

May 18, 2015 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

An already tense and dangerous situation in the South China Sea threatens to become even worse. The latest development focuses on reports that the United States is considering plans to initiate systematic military patrols with ships and planes in that volatile area. Without even waiting for confirmation that the reports are accurate, Beijing expressed its great displeasure regarding such a step.

If this actually comes to pass, Washington is about to deepen its involvement in a bitter, multi-sided territorial dispute. The underlying issues are murky and complex. Based on dubious interpretations of both history and international law, China claims an oceanic boundary that would convert some 80 percent of the South China Sea—and the small islands dotting itf—from international waters into Chinese territorial waters. Beijing has begun to enforce its claims with air and naval patrols and major reclamation projects to build serviceable artificial islands (in one case, even including an runway) from nearly submerged reefs. Several neighboring countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia, not only challenge Beijing’s claim, they assert significant territorial ambitions of their own. Vietnam has even commenced a more limited artificial island construction of its own.

The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not accept China’s logic or evidence regarding the territorial issue. Washington’s recalcitrance is unsurprising. Crucial sea lanes pass through the South China Sea, carrying a substantial portion of the world’s commerce. For U.S. leaders, that body of water is important both economically and strategically. As the world’s leading naval power and economic leader, the United States is not about to countenance an effort to convert the South China Sea into a de facto Chinese lake.

Washington is about to deepen its involvement in a bitter, multi-sided territorial dispute.”

An explicit assertion of American interest in the area came early in the Obama administration, highlighted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech to a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 2010. Chinese officials regarded Clinton’s comments as gratuitous interference in a purely regional controversy. Subsequent U.S. actions deepened Beijing’s concerns and suspicions.

Washington’s rhetorical involvement in the South China Sea issue coincided with the announcement of the strategic “pivot” or “rebalancing” of U.S. military forces to establish a stronger presence in East Asia. Moreover, the Obama administration has taken several specific steps that seem designed to thwart Beijing’s …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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