Call it 21st-century Gunboat Diplomacy. China is turning up the heat in the South China Sea dispute, and the show of force couldn’t have come at a worse time for China’s neighbors, according to the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies (h/t @LizEconomy):
On Sunday (22 July), China said it would station troops at Sansha, but did not say when or how many would be based there. Beijing’s announcement that it would establish a garrison came just days after ASEAN called on all parties to resolve any conflicts in the South China Sea peacefully.ASEAN’s statement of priciples was a compromise after divisions left the group without a communique for the first time in its 45-year history at the end of a foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
The Central Committee and the Politburo must be salivating.When ASEAN is so divided it can’t even issue a simple common statement, China knows that it’s gaining ground. Beijing has long opposed the American-backed idea of a multilateral forum to resolve territorial disputes in favor of bilateral negotiations, where it can bring the full weight of its influence to bear against each individual power, cut off from the herd.The only hope for a more level playing field is a strong, unified ASEAN. For this to occur, America needs increase its involvement in the region to bolster the regional body’s shaky foundations.