China’s brazen interference in a routine resupply mission to a Philippine outpost reveals Beijing’s growing capability to act on developments that it thinks may impact its interests—expansively defined—in the contested South China Sea. On November 16, two Philippine civilian boats delivering provisions to the moored BRP Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal (called Ayungin Shoal […]
Five years after a landmark arbitration ruling, Manila’s actions in the South China Sea leave much to be desired. Clamor to do more has built up ahead of President Rodrigo Duterte’s sixth and last State of the Nation Address on July 26. This said, despite some unhelpful off-the-cuff remarks, the arbitral award is being officially […]
Whitstun Reef, named Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines after the late composer of the Philippine national anthem, is becoming a new flashpoint in the South China Sea. The massing of about 220 Chinese fishing vessels in the reef in the past several weeks raises worries about China’s growing activities in the contested sea. The […]
The Philippines’ interest in purchasing India’s BrahMos cruise missile has thrown a spotlight on the growing security ties between Manila and New Delhi. The acquisition of the supersonic anti-ship missile, which can be mounted on multiple platforms, would signal the arrival of Delhi as a new security partner for the Southeast Asian country. Not only […]
The first standalone ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), hosted by Tokyo early this month, raised expectations about the role the four-member group will play in the fast-changing Indo-Pacific strategic landscape. India’s invitation for Australia to join the 2020 Malabar exercises next month transformed what began as U.S.-India maritime drills in 1992 into […]
China’s growing presence and activities in the South China Sea even amid a pandemic provide ample motivation for the Philippine decision to suspend the termination of its 20-year-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States. There are several other factors, however, that may also be at play. Manila wants a reset in the defense […]
The second visit in two years of a U.S. aircraft carrier to Vietnam turns a page in the relationship between the former Cold War nemeses. Aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill along with their over 5,000 officers and crew concluded a five-day visit to Da Nang early this month, marking […]
If recent developments are any indication, the South China Sea will remain an intense flashpoint for the rest of this year. Two things are especially worth following. First is the degree of importance China will assign to the South China Sea given its myriad domestic and foreign policy priorities. Second is how far neighboring littoral […]
A concoction of regional and domestic factors is driving China’s increased pressure on Vietnam in the South China Sea, but this strategy entails serious risks for Beijing and, if overplayed, may backfire. While Hanoi’s options to respond are currently limited, they may gain potency as Beijing’s intimidation tactics galvanize support among ASEAN and the international […]
“There is no ifs and buts. It is ours. But we have been acting along that legal truth and line. But we have to temper it with the times and the realities that we face today.” This statement in President Rodrigo Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month reflects his policy toward […]
The release of the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report by the U.S. Department of Defense last month has given further shape to the United States’ vision for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. The document underscores the linkages between economics, governance, and security and stresses the importance of allies and partners. However, it also reveals the contradiction between […]
If the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy only serves as a facet of Sino-U.S. competition, the United States will have to overcome China’s advantages in geographic distance, economic wherewithal, and policy continuity. If it serves as a strategy to cultivate agreed-upon norms and principles applied to all parties, big or small, then it may enjoy greater support. Whichever case, seven key issues merit careful consideration while they can have the greatest impact.
Power differentials between states affect how they view and respond to the South China Sea disputes. Small powers largely see them as a clash of unilateral territorial and maritime claims over all or part of the semi-enclosed sea, whereas big powers frame them in a more strategic manner – a contest for control over a critical international waterway. Small powers focus on immediate and direct concerns like resource access, whereas big powers stress universal freedoms of navigation and overflight. Lumping claims and freedoms together muddles and complicates the resolution of South China Sea disputes. Disaggregating them, however, may allow for opportunities to tackle part of the dispute separately.