The contest for domination over the South China Sea between the US and China reaches a new level as the Philippines enters negotiations with the White House about expanding the American military presence in the country. This move will be a frustrating surprise for China. A decision to start the talks came two decades after the eviction of the US forces from their biggest base in the Pacific. The development of the situation will certainly raise the tensions between the US and China, considering the aggressive efforts of America aimed at expanding its military presence in the region and China’s growing thirst for oil.
The energy rich South China Sea became a contested territory in the middle of the last century, when the Chinese Communist Party claimed its “indisputable sovereignty” over almost the entire basin. Now when the China’s demand for energy has dramatically risen, Beijing will hardly accept any compromises in the battle for the Sea. According to the International Energy Agency in Paris, China will double its demand for oil in the next quarter century. Considering the fact, that China imports more than half its oil while its own onshore oil resources are expecting a decline in oil-production, the expansion of American presence in the oil rich South China Sea will infuriate Beijing.
However, the While House will hardly miss a chance to confront its main opponent, especially now, when many other Southeast Asian countries seem to be on the side of the US. This support is easily explainable. Many in the Asia-Pacific region dosn’t see anything promising in China’s rise as a military and economic power. “We can point to other countries: Australia, Japan, Singapore,” said a senior Philippine official involved in the talks, “We’re not the only one doing this, and for good reason. We all want to see a peaceful and stable region. Nobody wants to have to face China or confront China.” Even Vietnam – another country hardly imagined as an America’s ally, is moving towards restoring the once broken ties.
“I don’t see in the near future an American base in Vietnam, but we have seen much more increased military cooperation,” said James Webb – chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia and Pacific affairs and a Vietnam War veteran.
The rapid growth of Beijing’s appetite made the Philippines join talks with the Obama administration and, while the negotiations are still in the early stages, both governments express hope that a deal will soon be reached. The US already has about 600 Special Operations troops on the territory if the Philippines – mostly military advisers aiding local forces in their fight against rebels sympathetic to al-Quada, but if the agreement is reached, the Philippines islands will start hosting American Navy warships and surveillance aircraft. The deal would follow other recent agreements to base thousands of US Marines in northern Australia and to station warships in Singapore. While America is confidently strengthening its influence in the region, US officials keep insisting the White House does not intend to repeat the Cold War scenarios, establishing giant military bases.
“We have no desire nor any interest in creating a U.S.-only base in Southeast Asia,” said Robert Scher, a deputy assistant secretary of defense who oversees security policy in the region. “In each one of these cases, the core decision and discussion is about how we work better with our friends and allies. And the key piece of that is working from their locations.”
While even recent history demonstrates that “friends and allies” usually have to suffer dramatic consequences from partnership with America, the aggressive policy of Beijing seems to leave no other options for Asia-Pacific countries.