I know the South China Sea is off the radar for many people because events in the Middle East and Central Asia has the attention of many Americans and others around the world, but the South China Sea has been simmering as a hot spot for about two decades. In the past couple of years, things have been slowly heating up with Chinese encroachments into the EEZ and/or territorial waters of Viet Nam, Indonesia and the Philippines. Now, it seems that the Chinese are about to go one step further.
China along with the four ASEAN claimant states have signed agreements to work together to jointly develop the resources of the sea basin and ensure freedom of navigation, but China has never backed down from its claim that the entire bed of the South China Sea is a part of its internal waters. This would trigger major territorial disputes with Viet Nam, Indonesia, Brunei Darusalaam, Malaysia and the Philippines.MANILA (AFP) – The Philippines said Wednesday it had formally protested to Beijing over recent activity in disputed waters of the South China Sea and Chinese plans to anchor an oil rig there.
China's charge d'affaires in Manila was summoned to the foreign ministry on Tuesday to hear the government's concerns over actions by the Chinese military in the South China Sea, a ministry statement said.
The foreign ministry said it "requested clarification from the Chinese embassy on the recent sightings of a China Marine Surveillance vessel and other People's Liberation Army Navy ships".
This has serious implications for the United States and Japan, among other states. Viet Nam and the Philippines have openly been courting closer ties with the United States over fears of Chinese expansionism and it is assumed that Indonesia will make similar pushes when Obama meets SBY later this year. I have also seen many editorials in Indonesian newspapers supporting closer relations with the United States (note - relations between Indonesia and the United States has been generally good since the late 1960s the East Timor - now Timor Leste - situation notwithstanding).
The U.S. should cultivate its relations with states in the region. The U.S. is generally well-liked in many east and southeast Asian countries and it is the one power that can ensure stability in the region. Considering that some of the world's businest trade routes are in the region and as a maritime nation, the U.S. relies on passage through those routes as much as anyone else, it is in the national interests of the United States to remain engaged and a force for stability in the region.
To accomplish this, it will require statecraft and a knowledge of the region that doesn't really seem to exist in the White House (and hasn't for quite some time) as well as some gumption to resist the bias in the State Department that has been there for China for the past three decades.