David Frum

08.10.12

Meanwhile, in the Pacific...

William Pesek reports in Bloomberg on some striking developments in the Pacific: China is making aggressive moves to claim contested territory such as the Paracel Islands and the Scarborough Shoal, and their belligerence is pushing more nations back into the US sphere of influence:

The brawl between China and the Philippines over ownership of a reef known as the Scarborough Shoal -- the scene of armed patrols and a source of a daily war of words -- is but the loudest of the moment. Asia features various territorial disputes involving Brunei, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan, with China at the center of almost all of them. The South China Sea is now the scene of one of the more serious feuds between officials in Washington and Beijing.

China views a number of islands and tiny rocks, some believed to have vast energy deposits, as its own. Its vague claims and assertive behavior are unnerving its Asian neighbors. So much so that officials from Hanoi to Tokyo are surprisingly receptive to President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia. That infuriates China, which wants the U.S. to mind its own business. For America, it’s an opportunity to regain a foothold in the world’s most dynamic region and flaunt its bona fides as a peacekeeper.

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“While the likelihood of major conflict remains low, all of the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing,” the International Crisis Group warned in a July 24 report.

All this threatens to overwhelm ties between the U.S. and China at a time when cooperation between these two superpowers has never been more important. This week, China’s state media fired a new rhetorical salvo, telling the U.S. to “shut up” and stop “fanning the flames.”

China is livid over comments by one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputies criticizing the Chinese government for sending a “seriously wrong signal” to Asian nations. China is establishing a city and military garrison in another group of atolls, the Paracel Islands, and plans to physically block foreign access to a disputed reef off the coast of the Philippines. Taiwan and Vietnam also claim sovereignty over the islands.