China and the US battle to assert presence in South China Sea
US warships are staging their third set of exercises in less than a month off the coast of China, in a show of force that has prompted fears of prolonged maritime tensions in the region.
US warships are currently staging their third set of exercises in less than a month off the coast of China, in a show of force that has prompted sharp criticism from Beijing and fears of prolonged maritime tensions in the region.Skip to next paragraph
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The US joint maneuvers with the South Korean and Vietnamese navies come hard on the heels of the three largest long-range training exercises that the Chinese Navy has ever held, and a series of clashes between Chinese ships and foreign fishing boats in disputed waters of the South China Sea.
The deployments illustrate a potentially dangerous clash of interests as each side seeks to assert its presence: China views the region as a vital shipping conduit for its energy imports and a key naval route to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, while America insists – as a global naval player – on its need for unimpeded passage and on its role as a Pacific power.
Wrestling match over the South China Sea
“The US-China wrestling match over the South China Sea issue has raised the stakes in deciding who the real future ruler of the planet will be,” proclaimed the daily Global Times last week. The paper is published by the ruling Communist party.
Last March, Beijing told visiting US officials that the South China Sea was a “core national interest,” giving the area the same status as Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang as a place China is prepared to fight over. As Beijing moves steadily closer to its goal of a powerful “blue water” navy, this implied threat carries added weight.
“That really rattled the US and Southeast Asian nations,” says Renato de Castro, who teaches international relations at De La Salle university in Manila.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded last month, at an Asian security conference, by declaring a US “national interest in freedom of navigation … and respect for international law in the South China Sea.”
That statement matched other recent US moves to remind China of Washington’s intention to remain a Pacific power.
US muscle flexing, or just keeping China in line?
Countering some regional allies’ impression that the United States had been ignoring them, Mrs. Clinton made Asia her first destination as Secretary of State and Washington last year signed a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).