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 Most RecentForeign Policy Archive
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South China Sea

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Like a bolt of lightning, that call of congratulations from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen to President-elect Donald Trump illuminated the Asian landscape. We can see clearly now the profit and loss statement from more than three decades of accommodating and appeasing China, since Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger made their historic journey in 1972. What... Read More
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When I first went to Hiroshima in 1967, the shadow on the steps was still there. It was an almost perfect impression of a human being at ease: legs splayed, back bent, one hand by her side as she sat waiting for a bank to open. At a quarter past eight on the morning of... Read More
Another day, another piece of US think-tankery poo-pooing the prospects for a nuclear confrontation with the PRC. RAND came up with a new report on the economic costs of war with China,Thinking the Unthinkable. In RAND's view the war won’t escalate beyond a limited conventional war fought in the West Pacific and over Chinese territory,... Read More
Things fall apart. Especially with a helping push from the United States. The world’s easier for America to manage if it’s broken into smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable and manageable pieces. That, I think, is one of the lessons of the post Cold War era. The USSR fell apart. Yugoslavia fell apart. So did Sudan.... Read More
Now that the UNCLOS SCS ruling has come down, it’s time to deal with What’s Next? Not good things, in my opinion, as expressed in my latest at Asia Times. It’s called No off ramps, only dead ends in the South China Sea. The diplomatic and strategic wild card, I think, is not the fact... Read More
Long Live?
As relatively muted reactions to the Philippines v. China arbitral tribunal award come in from ASEAN and EU, it appears likely that the PRC at the highest level traded an undertaking to finally abandon the nine-dash-line in return for international forbearance on declaration of China as an international outlaw for ignoring the ruling. I suspect... Read More
I have a piece up at Asia Times, China has right to declare ADIZ in the South China Sea. A bit more in your face than my proposed title but a) essentially true and b) not a bad idea improving coordination in zones abuzz with contentious military presences and missions and c) decent clickbait. Pre... Read More
If China begins to reclaim and militarize Scarborough Shoal, says Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III, America must fight. Should we back down, says Aquino, the United States will lose "its moral ascendancy, and also the confidence of one of its allies." And what is Scarborough Shoal? A cluster of rocks and reefs, 123 miles... Read More
The PRC is in a pretty solid position, legality-wise in occupying Scarborough Shoal. And that means it’s pretty much free to build on it. Even island-build it. The United States and the Philippines know that. Losing Scarborough Shoal was the price of the pivot. It’s just hard to admit it. Back in May 2012, a... Read More
...With Its Own Floating Nuclear Power Station!
I’ve been a somewhat skeptical concerning Western handwringing about perceived PRC intentions to islandbuild Scarborough Shoal, seeing them as perhaps pivot-promoting alarmism. But, as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is a cigar and sometimes a threat to build the shoal is…a threat to build the shoal. My rethink was prompted by the appearance on a... Read More
In this post I’m developing at length several themes that I touched upon in my most recent article up exclusively at Asia Times on the current pivot hot button: South China Sea Dispute: Rewriting the History of Scarborough Shoal. There is currently a great deal of handwringing as to whether the PRC will island-build the... Read More
I’ve got an article up exclusively at Asia Times—Pentagon Looks Beyond FONOPs in the South China Sea-- on the latest wrinkle in the US tussle with the PRC in the South China Sea: augmenting the maritime “Freedom of Navigation” gambit with a new focus on the PRC threat to regional and US territorially-based interests. The... Read More
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... Read More
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Stupid Sh*t: US Failure, Denial, and Escalation in the South China Sea
By most metrics the US campaign to deter and modify PRC behavior in the South China Sea has been a colossal bust. The US “Freedom of Navigation” initiative for the South China Sea is, to put it bluntly, completely bogus. The PRC has no interest in impeding the movement of ships in the South China... Read More
I have an article up exclusively at Asia Times Online, South China Sea Face-off: The Mystery of Woody Island. Go ahead, click the link! It addresses the media freakout over a Fox News report that commercial satellite imagery revealed something that looked like HQ-9 surface-to-air missile launchers were on the beach at Woody Island in... Read More
There has been a concerted campaign to depict the South China Sea as an indispensable artery for commercial shipping and, therefore, a justifiable object of US attention and meddling. This flagship of this effort is invoking the “$5 trillion dollars” worth of goods that pass through the SCS each year. Reuters, in particular, is addicted... Read More
When the US destroyer USS Lassen finally executed its Freedom of Navigation sailthrough a.k.a. “The FONOP” within 12 miles of Subi Reef on October 27, the China hawks were ecstatic. John Garnaut exulted that the United States had bested the PRC in a “seminal test of wills”. On his Twitter feed plugging his piece he... Read More
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Russia and US warplanes are flying way too close to one another over Syria and may soon, in Iraq. Drones are all over the place. An accident is inevitable. Civilian airliners are increasingly at risk over the Mideast. US ground troops may enter Syria. This week the missile destroyer, USS Lassen, openly challenged the maritime... Read More
It appears that Washington, ever a seething cauldron of bright ideas, is looking for a shooting war with China, or perhaps trying to make the Chinese kowtow and back down, the pretext being some rocks in the Pacific in which the United States cannot possibly have a vital national interest. Or, really, any interest. And... Read More
Trailed by two Chinese warships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen sailed inside the 12-nautical-mile limit of Subi Reef, a man-made island China claims as her national territory. Beijing protested. Says China: Subi Reef and the Spratly Island chain, in a South China Sea that carries half of the world's seaborne trade, are as much ours... Read More
This was an anxious week in Pivotland© , the Beltway district in which milsec types congregate to formulate, promote, and profit from the forward strategy toward the PRC. President Obama has been laggard in executing a cherished pivot initiative, the defiant US Navy sailthrough within 12 miles of the PRC’s faux-island holdings in the South... Read More
Anti-Submarine Warrior” Primps for Its Close-Up
Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel spoke at the CSIS South China Sea Conference on July 20, 2015. He made news by declaring that the United States is not neutral in some issues pertaining to the South China Sea. The money quote came in reply to a question from Wu Shicun, the PRC representative at... Read More
Actually, that was a title of a post I wrote in July 2010, before island-building, before the Senkaku crises, before the rare earths brouhaha, even before Hillary Clinton declared that the US had a “national interest” in freedom of navigation at the 2010 ASEAN foreign ministers’ conference in Hanoi and formally kicked off the “pivot”.... Read More
The New Silk Route/Silk Road. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Wikimedia Commons
The Skirmish in the Spratlys
The vast build up of military assets in the Asia-Pacific signals a fundamental change in U.S. policy towards China. Washington no longer believes that China can be integrated into the existing US-led system. Recent actions taken by China– particularly the announcement that it planned to launch an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that would compete... Read More
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Ignorance is renewed with each newborn, and by the time any man figures out anything, he can almost feel the mortician leaning over his stiff face. Though all lessons are embalmed within history, few care to explore that infinite corpse. Lewis Mumford, “So far from being overwhelmed by the accumulations of history, the fact is... Read More
Spoiler: No.
It would seem a certain amount of foreign affairs reporting starts out as pabulum fed by the government and its loyal allies to available journos, who further if incompletely digest it and then crap it out on the digital pages of various newspapers, magazines, and think tank white papers for the delectation of a somewhat... Read More
...But Won't Be
Attendees at the Shangri La confab would like you to believe it’s about protecting Freedom of Navigation (hereinafter FoN) in the South Chinese Sea (hereinafter SCS) from the Perfidious Red Chinese (hereinafter PRC). I debunked the FoN canard pre-conference at Asia Times. The only nation with an existential interest in FoN in the SCS is... Read More
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Pivot Insanity
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is willing to risk a war with China in order to defend “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea. Speaking in Honolulu, Hawaii on Wednesday, Carter issued his “most forceful” warning yet, demanding “an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation” by China in the disputed Spratly Islands.... Read More
I have a piece up at Asia Times, The Salami Slices Back!, on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Spoiler: the threat to FoN is the linchpin justification for US meddling in the SCS, but it's pretty much BS. Rather timely, isn’t it? Since the US started flying military patrol aircraft around PRC-held... Read More
I have a short piece on the prospects for joint US-Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea in the context of the new US-Japan defense guidelines at the new AT. Go! Read it! Thank you. I draw the conclusion that the main practical application of joint patrols is to provide backup to the Philippines... Read More
As I predicted a while back, the United States has quietly ditched its old, underperforming pretext for confrontation in the South China Sea and is sidestepping into a new justification. I do not care deeply about America’s stake in the South China Sea. So I have little interest in slogging through recent US & PRC... Read More
A think tank called CNA recently issued a 140 page report titled China versus Vietnam: An Analysis of the Competing Claims in the South China Sea authored by Raul (Pete) Pedrozo. It provides a further legal rationale for growing US efforts to inject itself into South China Sea EEZ disputes on behalf of Vietnam and... Read More
In this piece I misidentified Carlyle Thayer as "Carleton Thayer". I regret the error. CH 8/18/14 Usually, my predictions don’t pan out so quickly. On August 11, I looked at the implications of a statement by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in Vietnam that used a striking reinterpretation of the global stake in maritime EEZs or... Read More
There were signs of a major escalation in US activity in the South China Sea…but not during the ASEAN meeting. Back on July 13, I wrote about US frustration with successful PRC efforts—symbolized by but not limited to the HYSY 981 drilling rig outrage--to defy the U.S. campaign to deter PRC assertiveness in the South... Read More
Is the PRC Ditching the Nine Dash Line? Without any ambiguity, the People’s Republic of China has announced that it considers itself and not the United States the boss in the South China Sea. Its most assertive statement of this principle was to send the HYSY 981 rig, escorted by a flotilla of dozens of... Read More
I was rather beguiled at first by President Obama’s commencement speech at West Point. Not just because everybody else dumped all over it, and I wanted to exercise my contrarian’s prerogative to defend the indefensible. It’s because the central premise—what I call the Obama Doctrine—is rather attractive to me: President Obama’s unwillingness to employ military... Read More
And...Island Games: Okinotorishima vs. Johnson South Reef
My Twitter feed contained the following ringing statement: To paraphrase Napoleon on the Pope, how many battalions does the frickin’ passive voice have? “Must be prevented”. That’s the problem with the pivot. The "pivot to Asia" is an idea. It's not a doctrine, like the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, or the... Read More
In discussing the issue of why the PRC plunked down the drilling rig HYSY981 off the Vietnamese coast, there seems to be a certain amount of cognitive dissonance plaguing the Western commentariat. Apropos l’affaire HYSY 981,The Asia Society hosted a roundtable on its website composed of the luminaries Daniel Kliman, Ely Ratner, Orville Schell, Susan... Read More
Failure of engagement to deliver ideal outcomes do not mean that deterrence will be more successful, or even more desirable.
I try to eschew dramatic, click-baiting headlines, but I think current developments in Asia are a big deal.   President Obama is visiting Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, and South Korea. He’s not visiting the People’s Republic of China.  He never planned to, because this trip is meant as an exercise in pivot-love, the bromance of... Read More
[In the original version of this post, I mis-stated the US position on coverage of the Senkakus by the US-Japan Security Treaty. President George W. Bush had affirmed it, President Obama was reportedly primed to retract it, but Secretary of State Clinton reaffirmed it during the US response to the 2010 rare earth crisis. The... Read More
In the context of the PRC charm offensive at ASEAN (leavened by a sharp slap at Philippine's President Aquino), the Beijing Review has published a detailed explanation of "core interests" that also provides some pretty significant looking and novel interpretations of China's South China Sea claims. In the article, dated August 26, China's declaration of... Read More
The article below this comment originally appeared at Asia Times Online on December 8, 2012.  It can be reposted if ATOl is credited and a link provided. Reuters for some reason continued to beat the Hainan coast guard regulations dead horse with an analysis posted on December 9 that begins:  Imagine if the U.S. state... Read More
 A lot of matches are flying around the Chinese tinderbox.   Fortunately, most parties involved seem more interested in scoring political points than making a genuine and risky effort to push back China. However, as the example of Sarajevo tells us, sometimes wars happen when nations become prisoners of their own posturing.   So it's worthwhile to... Read More
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