Reuters: Trump White House vows to stop China taking South China Sea islands. Creating a climate of fear and uncertainty is an excellent way to stop U.S. investment and outsourcing in China. But repatriation of assets would undoubtedly be blocked. Is it gamesmanship?
Most of the Sea is within a zone in which China has a massive advantage in power projection. But there is exactly one place in the South China Sea where the vow could conceivably be fulfilled: Mischief Reef,
If this sounds too theoretical, refer to the way crows (Chinese Navy) fight off birds of prey (U.S. eagle). The less powerful but more numerous crows defeat predators by mobbing. But mobbing requires the home court advantage.
Remotely, if a U.S. presence was substantially restored to the former Subic Bay naval station, Scarborough Shoal, 15°11′N 117°46′E, becomes possible. The critical Philippines are absent from the alignment. But on January 17, their foreign minister, on January 17 said
“They said that they would prevent China from doing or undertaking these kind of activity. If it wants to do that, they have the force to do so, let them do it,” Yasay said, referring to Tillerson’s remarks on Wednesday to U.S. senators.
For a new China vassal, this has curious nuance. And on January 16, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest.
“I just want to assure the Filipino people that when we take action at engaging China in this dispute, we do not want to take such aggressive, provocative action that will not solve the problem,” he said.
There has been an amusing parallel between the Trump confirmation hearings, in which nominees opposed the Trump campaign plank, and Duterte’s “bye-bye” to the U.S. alliance, with subsequent statements by Yasay attempting to reverse the damage. To wit:
- (Asia Maritime Reviews) The Philippines said on Monday it will not “deviate from” an international tribunal ruling that rejected China’s extensive claims in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea, but it must build trust with China before discussing “sensitive” bilateral issues.
- Same article: “I also wish to reiterate what the president has stated in the past that he will not deviate from the four corners of the ruling,” the minister said.
- But, same article,
Earlier, a former foreign minister, Albert del Rosario, said he was disturbed by the government’s setting aside of the tribunal ruling while unwinding military dealings with the long-time ally the U.S.
“The foregoing declarations are most sadly being made after we had taken a firm rules-based position to defend what is ours – and won,” del Rosario said in a statement. “Now, we seem to be on a track to relinquish those gains that have been made to benefit our people.”
If “nothing” happens, the gambit would still be a bold and probably effective method to break the trust of U.S. corporations in China investments. If action were in the offing, would there be signs? I’d rather not say. Philippine politics is a noisy place, like the engine room of a ship keeping station, all clanging bells and rudder changes. Duterte vilified the U.S. daily for months before “bye-bye.”
Keep your ear to the ground.