South China Sea, an issue of US Commitment or Interference
Chua Chin Hon, ST’s Bureau Chief in Washington, wrote an article titled, ‘South China Sea issue a test of US Commitment’. The article can best be summed up as a western interpretation of events in South East and East Asia and the role of US to take charge as the undisputed Empire. It touched on how China was staking its claims to 80% of the South China Sea and how this would have rattled the littoral states. It took for granted the US position that 80% of the four oceans are part of their national interest without mentioning how the countries of the world would react to it. Then it pointed to the increasing Chinese military presence and drills as unacceptable developments while the huge military exercises of the American naval fleets in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea and South China Sea as how things should be. What is pertinent in the article is America’s leadership role in Asean. After Hilary Clinton’s attack on China’s position in the disputed South China Sea islands, which provoked a strong reaction from China, the Americans were quick to use this as an excuse to stake their claims to leadership in Asean and their role to lead Asean against China. As Ernest Bower of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies(CSIS) remarked, ‘If you rattle the cage with China like this and depart, you probably can’t be forgiven.’ And Bower added, ‘To be honest, there’s enough pressure now, particularly with the Chinese reaction, that it may require the Americans to take a leadership role (at this stage).’ This is exactly the intent of the Americans. Provoke a crisis situation and instigate the innocents to be a party to a dispute with the Americans as the undisputed leader. In Bower’s words, ‘I don’t see many Asean countries with the political courage to stand up and take the lead when the elephants are butting their heads.’ The Americans do not see the Asean countries capable of taking on the Chinese in a contentious situation when military is needed. Only they are capable of fighting a big country like China. Would the Asean states be dragged into a confrontation with China instigated by the Americans? The relationship between Asean and China has been one of diplomacy and peaceful negotiation. And Asean was and is able to take on China on an equal basis with no fear of China’s use of force. Would this stance be changed and Asean becoming another SEATO, an extended arm of the American Empire set to pitch against China in a military contest? Or would Asean be wise enough to steer clear of the American scheme of things and remain neutral and independent? The US is coveting a leadership role in Asean and this is the real issue, a test of Asean’s resilience and independence from big power domination. Has Asean been less effective over the years without carrying a mighty sword to the negotiating table and now see it necessary to have the backings of a superpower to conduct its dealings? Would Asean be goaded into a confrontation with China and turn Southeast Asia into a war torn region like the Middle East? This is what will likely to happen if the US is allowed to lead and dictate how Asean shall behave.