Posted by: mulrickillion | October 18, 2011

Growing U.S. Role in South China Sea

By Joshua Kurlantzick, Fellow for Southeast Asia

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), October 11, 2011

The South China Sea–a zone of conflict between China, Southeast Asian nations, and the United States–appears, on the surface, to have quieted down over the past six months. China and five other nations claim parts of the South China Sea, which has strategic significance and potentially sizable petroleum deposits. Last year, the United States publicly warned Beijing that free passage, and a resolution to claims accepted by all parties, was a U.S. "national interest." The United States has treaty allies in the region, sends ships through the South China Sea regularly, and views the waters as critically strategic. This position, however, infuriated China.

At this summer’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali, China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations celebrated the drafting of an agreement between Southeast Asian states and China to resolve South China Sea disputes peacefully, according to guidelines laid down previously. But the agreement skirts resolution of key issues, and the involvement of the United States as a last-resort guarantor of Southeast Asian states’ rights to the sea is likely to grow.

The Looming Problems

The ASEAN-China agreement fails to address the drivers of potential conflict in the South China Sea. For one, the new "deal" is really just a commitment to implement guidelines for all the countries to try and work out rival claims; it hardly guarantees that any of the nations will give up their demands over part of the sea. Both the "deal" and those guidelines are vaguely worded, and mostly avoid overlapping territorial claims to focus instead on issues like environmental protection.

What’s more, many senior Chinese officials appear to view the South China Sea as an area of "core interest" that is as non-negotiable as other sensitive regions like Taiwan and Tibet–rhetoric that China recently has tamped down but not abandoned. Earlier this year, Chinese vessels cut the cables on Vietnamese ships operating in the South China Sea, and over the year there have been at least ten confrontations on the sea between China and the Philippines. . . .

Growing U.S. Role in South China Sea – Council on Foreign Relations


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