It looks like there is a bully in the classroom. China has been the major claimant of several areas within the territory of the South China Sea (SCS) and South Asian nations have finally run out of patience; they seek the help of international law to keep China at bay. But never has China been known to bow down that easy.
Several countries of South Asia have been in mêlée against China over territorial issues within the South China Sea; at least ten confrontations of China with Philippines over the past year is only an example of what has been happening for a while now. Five other nations, namely Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei, who are also part of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have long realised that they have little ability to stand up to Chinese domination as far as regional organisation is concerned. Where on one hand China’s military prowess has only gained momentum over the past years, the unity of the ASEAN countries (or the glaring lack of it) seems to be making them more vulnerable.
With The Hague now ruling in favour of Philippines, the country is now in a conundrum over its diplomatic stand. Its lack of naval muscle is forcing the government to maintain diplomacy with China, and at the same time, lean toward the US for military sustenance.
As if there were scope for more competition in the South China Sea, Russia will now be joining China for joint exercises, which is alarming indeed. The growing influence of yet another world superpower in the area is now hinting toward what might be more aggressive conflicts in the future over the already disputed territory.
Philippines made it clear in the past that it is independent of US influence. However, with current developments threatening its dignity, it seems like making US an ally has become the country’s priority. The US’s involvement in this issue will guarantee that the Southeast Asian countries remain indebted to it, and rely on it to bring them justice in case of any international crisis such as this. The US is perhaps depending on this to build further relationships with the ASEAN countries.
A build up of tension with China has provided a diplomatic cover for other American interest in the region (The territory is rich in oil reserves). Since ASEAN countries have turned to US for help, it now has a valid reason to linger and probably seek to serve its own motives.
One cannot deny that US intervention might indeed be necessary, since China leaves no opportunity to project its mighty military dexterity, which now combined with Russia has become even more threatening. But will the United States remain faithful to its rationale behind entering the South China Sea, or will it get swayed by the delicious lure of natural resources and a desire to project itself as the superior power, remains to be seen. Growing military cooperation between Moscow and Beijing needs to be kept under global observation, and while China is a country to be wary of, so is the United States.