As President Obama heads for Australia and then Indonesia this week, South East Asian nations will be expecting him to spread the US security umbrella a little more firmly over their region.
China’s increasingly assertive territorial claims over huge swathes of the South China Sea recently have unnerved several of the Asian giant’s neighbors. They will be relieved to hear the US president re-assert Washington’s Pacific priorities.
In Australia, Mr. Obama is expected to announce a major boost in military ties, giving US forces permanent access to Australian bases in northern Australia, close to Indonesia. That would make it much easier for them to reach key shipping lanes in the South China Sea.
US Pacific Command chief Robert Willard described those trade routes Monday as “incredibly vital to the region, to our partners and allies, and certainly to the United States.” Some 50 percent of world trade passes through the South China Sea.
In Indonesia, Obama will be the first US president to attend an East Asian Summit, in a clear signal that after a decade of concentrating heavily on the Middle East, Washington is now readier to focus more on Asia.
A number of the regional countries involved in territorial disputes with China, such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, say they have noted a growing readiness in Beijing to assert sovereignty claims far from mainland China.
The Philippines government was surprised last July when China objected to Manila’s invitation to foreign companies to explore for oil and gas 50 miles off the Philippines coast. China claimed that the move “infringes on China’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
The area lies more than 500 miles from the nearest Chinese coast, Philippines Energy Ministry Undersecretary Jose Layug told the Associated Press Monday, revealing the extent of China’s latest territorial claim.
[ Video is no longer available. ]