China-US Rivalry: New Perspectives

Manila Bulletin, October 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

China-US Rivalry: New Perspectives


"The South China Sea (SCS)has increasingly become an armed camp as the claimants build up and modernize their navies... China has so far confiscated 12 islands, Taiwan one, Vietnam 25, the Philippines 8, and Malaysia 5..." - Robert D. KaplanMANILA, Philippines - During the last fortnight, in lectures and roundtable discussions at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC; at three universities (Johns Hopkins, Yale, and Seton Hall); the San Diego World Affairs Council; the Cerritos (Los Angeles) Main Library, and other venues across the US, FVR opined: "Shadow boxing between the US and China has taken a serious turn over the latter's territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea (or Spratlys)."Undeclared arms raceFVR's consistent theme in recent engagements here and abroad is that Beijing and Washington are in an undeclared arms race - which must be moderated and resolved by peaceful, cooperative undertakings. For the moment, the contest is focused on the SCS, but ultimately centers on China's desire to rival the global dominance of the US. China's aim is to erode the credibility of Washington's security guarantees to Asian allies, including the Philippines, and reduce the US sphere of influence in the Asia-Pacific. Despite these problems, FVR does not think war between China and the US would break out. He has asserted in previous essays and speeches that in our globalized, interdependent, and connected world, there are no longer nation-enemies intent on triggering World War III and actualizing M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction). Today, the enemies of humankind at large are international terrorism, global warming/climate change, poverty, deprivation, hunger, endemic disease, and ignorance everywhere. Worrisome developmentsIn past weeks, new developments emanating from various nation-claimants and stakeholders have roiled the Spratlys/Paracels/SCS issues, fueling continued anxieties, particularly China's naval build-up and "strategic ambiguity" in its claims in the SCS. Notable among these are:(1) Taiwan is deploying Tien-Chien missiles to replace its vintage-1980 Chaparrals and outdated air-defense artillery. This is in response to recent Vietnamese deployment of thousands of troops in the SCS backed by Russian-made fighter jets - to beef up the small Taiwanese garrison. (Agence France Presse, 14 October).(2) Singapore has challenged China to clarify its claims "with more precision as current ambiguities on their extent causes serious concerns in the international community," according to Singapore's Foreign Ministry. Although not a claimant, Singapore as a major trading nation has critical interests in the freedom of navigation in the SCS.(3) US and Philippine Marines started last 17 October joint exercises in the West Philippine Sea as part of the yearly RP-US Amphibious Landing Exercises. This year's Phiblex is the 28th edition of the RP-US exercises, but the first with Palawan as a venue, according to Brig. Gen.Eugene Clemen, Philippine exercise director. He said 1,000 Filipino and 2,000 US Marines are participating. For his part, Brig. Gen. Craig Timberlake, US director, stressed that the two allies are seeking improved interoperability of units as the "goal of the annual exercises."(4) Director Tran Toung Thuy of the Vietnam Center for East Asia Studies (also Foreign Ministry adviser), accused China of aggressively using its military power and diplomatic double-talk to prevent ASEAN from adopting a binding code of conduct to stop Chinese intrusions. At the C. P. Romulo Forum on SCS issues last 17 October, he warned that in spite of China's charm offensive, Beijing continues to "control the SCS strategically and economically."(5) Philippine Navy authorities seized 25 unmanned motorized fishing boats abandoned by a larger Chinese vessel upon the approach of a Philippine gunboat. This took place near Reed Bank, 90 miles from the western coast of Palawan. Although the DFA considered it a "little incident," this was speculated upon by media as new Chinese "creeping intrusion. …

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