Tuesday, March 22, 2016

South China Sea Trifecta




For a guy who’s sick of the whole South China Sea imbroglio, I sure write about it a lot.

I have a piece up at The Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus: China Not Leaving the “South China Sea”.  It updates the PRC strategic move to an island based posture in anticipation of an unfavorable ruling on the UNCLOS arbitration.

And a piece at China Matters, America’s South China Sea Fail, which addresses the shortcomings of the US pushing the territorial sea/anti Nine Dash Line gambit in the SCS.  I regard the US SCS policy as ill-conceived and ineffective, therefore eliciting a lot of lip service and a lot less genuine buy in from countries in the region.  In this context, I take a look at Kurt Campbell’s patty-cake with David Ignatius as an effort to logroll an also less-than-enthusiastic President Obama to escalate a Clinton-legacy/Pentagon-adored SCS policy that otherwise is boldly going nowhere.

And a piece at Asia Times on what I find to be an interesting “dog that did bark” (to mangle Sherlock Holmes): the spasm of panic that the UNCLOS ruling will not come down soon enough to box in the various candidates in the Philippines presidential election in early May.  It’s exclusive at Asia Times, titled  Philippine Election Question Marks Sow Panic in the South China Sea.  The specter of the PRC reclaiming the Scarborough Shoal is being evoked, possibly to stampede the arbitration commission into issuing a ruling Before It’s Too Late.

Certainly, if the PRC successfully occupies Scarborough Shoal as a territorial feature beyond the reach of UNCLOS, some people in the Philippines would question the value and wisdom of the UNCLOS route even more than they’re doing now.  And it would be a move that would demand a US escalated response, both to display US might and resolve to the PRC and to persuade the Philippines they have not signed on for a policy that is not only ill-conceived, but doing immediate and concrete damage to Philippine interests.

United States strategists never concerned themselves overmuch with flaws in the South China Sea endgame or possible shortfalls in local support, in my opinion.  Discord with the PRC of any kind was productive, since it would polarize the region and push China’s neighbors into closer relations with the United States.  And the casual assumption concerning US influence in Asia is that the military relationships and the pro-American milsec forces they foster have enough clout to shoulder aside the China doves.

However, as the choices become harder, the options less palatable, and the flaws in the U.S. approach become more evident, more active and cruder measures will have to be implemented in order to gut local opposition to lining up with the United States against the PRC.

I think that overt local China-hawk political campaigning in tag-team with the Pentagon is becoming a fact of life in the Philippines and Australia.  And I think more extreme efforts to invoke a sense of regional crisis to force local governments off the fence and sign on for things like joint FON patrols, open statements against the PRC in SCS etc. will become the key destabilizing issue in the SCS in the upcoming period.