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Mark J. Valencia:
By Mark J. Valencia - 28 Oct 2016
A debate between Kurt Campbell, the architect of the US pivot to Asia, and Australian strategic thinker Hugh White makes clear that the South China Sea has become the cockpit of US-China competition for domination of Asia. The outcome may determine whose principles, values and “order” will shape the future of Asia.
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.
China’s claims, policies and actions in the South China Sea have been severely criticized by other claimants as well as external maritime powers. The protagonists are stepping up their public relations campaigns to bolster their positions. Much of the rhetoric fits the allegory of the pot(s) calling the kettle black as China’s major critics have undertaken similar actions.