Eyeing China warily, Tokyo and Manila have agreed to forge new defense agreements. A joint statement by the two countries’ presidents emphasized maritime security, a strategic partnership, and military collaboration. The WSJ reports:
Although the agreement does not directly mention China, it is a major symbolic step toward a multilateral consensus in Asia on dealing with increasing territorial friction with China.The Philippines and China both lay claim to the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that geologists think may lie atop significant oil and gas deposits. Philippine officials have accused Chinese vessels of hindering oil and gas exploration in a portion of the waters known as Reed Bank. Vietnam, which also claims part of the Spratly chain, has likewise complained of China’s increasingly assertive claims in the region.Japan, too, has seen its relations with China strained by a territorial dispute, this one over islands in the East China Sea. A war of words broke out between Beijing and Tokyo last autumn following the arrest of a Chinese fishing crew by the Japanese coast guard, and the year since has brought a series of incursions by Chinese ships into the disputed waters. Mr. Noda earlier this month voiced concern over China’s military build-up and increased maritime activity near Japan.The agreement between Japan and the Philippines stresses the two countries’ shared interests, bringing the similar but separate maritime squabbles with China under a larger cooperative umbrella.
The battle lines of the new Great Game are slowly becoming more defined. China, increasingly confrontational with its neighbors, is also increasingly isolated. Beijing’s only true friends might be Pakistan, Myanmar, and North Korea – none of them quite on the “A” Team. Meanwhile, Japan and the Philippines join India, Taiwan, Australia and Singapore on the other side. Relations are tense today; tomorrow they could be unfriendly, or worse. Competition over resources in the South China Sea as well as the mainland (especially water: see article) will only intensify in the years to come.China’s strategic disadvantage persists, even as its military forces grow. Every effort it makes to assert itself in the region drives the neighbors closer into Washington’s embrace. It seems unlikely over time that China will indefinitely accept this situation with resignation and calm — but it remains unclear what, in the absence of a collapse in US power, it can actually do.