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Guest Opinion: Destabilizing South China Sea is U.S. strategic objective

2024-04-23 09:38xinhua news agency
by Koh King Kee

Tensions are heating up in the South China Sea as the standoff between Chinese and Philippine Coast Guards at Ren'ai Jiao continues.

Most notably, the U.S. Army has recently deployed its new Typhon mid-range ground-based missile launcher to Luzon, the Philippines. This marked the first deployment of such a missile system by the United States following its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019.

The deployment coincided with the first ever U.S.-Japan-Philippines summit among U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Washington on April 11.

According to one senior U.S. official, the security issue in the South China Sea is a "pillar" of the discussions during the summit. Biden began the meeting by reiterating that "the U.S. defense commitments to Japan and the Philippines are ironclad," and affirmed that the Mutual Defense Treaty would be invoked in response to any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels, or armed forces in the South China Sea.

In fact, many political analysts view the Philippines' decision to invite Washington into the fray, including allowing U.S. access to naval bases located at China's doorstep, as posing a potential threat to China's national security and sovereignty.

The Philippines is unlikely to receive support from other ASEAN member states in the event of a U.S.-backed conflict with China over the Ren'ai Jiao dispute. ASEAN countries are likely to maintain their stance of neutrality and refrain from taking sides between China and the United States.

The South China Sea has become the battleground of big power rivalry under the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, which is tailored to constrain and contain China. The United States is now seeking to revitalize the First Island Chain to encircle China through solidifying its relationships with regional allies.

In April 2023, the Philippines granted the United States access to four new military bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, including the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan, located at the northern tip of Luzon Island, approximately 500 km from Taiwan's Kaohsiung Port. Furthermore, the United States is also funding the development of a port in Batanes, which is less than 200 km from Taiwan.

On April 7, 2024, the Philippines, along with the United States and its two other treaty allies, Japan and Australia, conducted their first joint naval exercise, including anti-submarine warfare training, to demonstrate their collective commitment to strengthen regional and international cooperation in support of a "free and open Indo-Pacific," and upholding "freedom of navigation and overflight."

China conducted an air and sea combat patrol in the South China Sea to counter the quartet's drill, viewing such military activities as potential threats to the peace and security of the region.

Biden hosted a trilateral Camp David Summit with the leaders of Japan and South Korea on Aug. 18, 2023, institutionalizing cooperation mechanisms among these allies. This trilateral framework not only strengthens defense cooperation in Northeast Asia but also has profound implications for stability and peace in the South China Sea. Japan, as a loyal U.S. ally, is now acting as a surrogate for the United States in Asia, actively implementing U.S. strategic goals to further U.S. geopolitical interests.

The United States views China as a "pacing challenge" and the most consequential strategic competitor for the coming decades. However, Washington acknowledges that it cannot rely on China to alter its current trajectory. Therefore, the United States aims to proactively shape the strategic environment surrounding China to advance its geopolitical interests and objectives. Destabilizing the South China Sea is a key strategic objective in this regard.

Marcos' confrontational approach in handling the South China Sea dispute aligns closely with the U.S. strategy of containing China. Whether intentionally or not, Marcos is allowing the Philippines to become a U.S. proxy in the rivalry with China, which could have serious consequences affecting the national interests of the Philippines.