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Mark J. Valencia:
By Mark J. Valencia - 15 Nov 2016
“Make America Great Again” was Trump’s campaign slogan. This probably translates to a Reaganesque “peace through strength” approach. Implementing such a policy in Southeast Asia is likely to be accompanied by blusters, threats and shows of force and gunboat diplomacy.
It has now been nearly three months since the arbitral panel ruling against China’s claims to maritime space in the South China Sea. The decision has set in motion political and military adjustments. But none of them contribute to the resolution of the conflicting claims or to the contest between the US and China.
China has apparently decided to play for the longer term, leveraging its strong position on the ground while refraining from raising tension by initiating construction on Scarborough Shoal or declaring an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea.
American allies like Japan have taken strong stands in support of the decision. But belatedly some are realizing that the decision has important potentially negative implications for their own maritime claims and disputes.
Most such encounters are not unintentional or even unexpected. If the US persists in provocative actions despite China’s repeated requests to cease and desist, it must expect to be challenged. And if Japan continues to flaunt its control of the Senkakus, it too invites such challenges.
China, the US and their respective supporters are engaged in a propaganda “war” regarding the South China Sea. China has launched a worldwide information campaign that justifies its position. Officials and analysts in the US have seemingly been dragged into the media “gutter” and become involved in a public information campaign of their own.
According to the Pentagon, on May 17, 2016, two Chinese J-11 fighter jets intercepted a US Navy EP-3 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plane on a “routine patrol” in “international air space” about 100 nautical miles south of China’s mainland coast and 50 nm east of Hainan.
In the run-up to the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision regarding the Philippines/China dispute in the South China Sea, China has been “reclaiming,” building on and, the US charges, “militarizing” unoccupied, and in some cases, originally submerged features. The relatively muffled rhetoric on both sides have led to speculation as to what is going on behind the scenes.