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Strategy and Policy
Obama Official: Obama Was Weak on S. China Sea

Writing for Foreign Affairs, former Joe Biden advisor Ely Ratner argues that the Obama administration failed to define credible consequences for China’s militarization of the South China Sea, thus enabling Beijing’s steady gains there:

In 2015, […] U.S. President Barack Obama said in a joint press conference with Xi, “The United States welcomes the rise of a China that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and a responsible player in global affairs.” Yet Washington never made clear what it would do if Beijing failed to live up to that standard… The United States’ desire to avoid conflict meant that nearly every time China acted assertively or defied international law in the South China Sea, Washington instinctively took steps to reduce tensions, thereby allowing China to make incremental gains. […]

U.S. policymakers should recognize that China’s behavior in the sea is based on its perception of how the United States will respond. The lack of U.S. resistance has led Beijing to conclude that the United States will not compromise its relationship with China over the South China Sea. As a result, the biggest threat to the United States today in Asia is Chinese hegemony, not great-power war. U.S. regional leadership is much more likely to go out with a whimper than with a bang.

Later, Ratner suggests the kind of “course correction” that the U.S. could still lead to change China’s calculus in the region:

In order to alter China’s incentives, the United States should issue a clear warning: that if China continues to construct artificial islands or stations powerful military assets, such as long-range missiles or combat aircraft, on those it has already built, the United States will fundamentally change its policy toward the South China Sea. Shedding its position of neutrality, Washington would stop calling for restraint and instead increase its efforts to help the region’s countries defend themselves against Chinese coercion.

Will President Trump be able to implement the kind of forceful strategy Ratner has in mind? The jury is still out. Here at TAI, we have been encouraged to see the Administration recently launch a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP) after initial passivity, and Defense Secretary Mattis testified this week that such exercises would be a routine part of the strategy going forward. But it will take more than such exercises to prevent Chinese hegemony in the region—and Ratner’s article lays out a particularly muscular approach to change the game to our advantage.

Do read the whole thing.

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  • Unelected Leader

    Obumer was just following failed dingy GWB and Pervy Clinton’s lead. What did bush do? Nothing. What did Perv Clinton do in 95 when they forcibly occupied and held Mischief Reef which is in the Philippine EEZ? Nothing.

    • MyWord245

      Easy to pick on Obama and Clinton. What about our dear leader, in the Whitehouse now? Backs down from recognizing Taiwan because Xi doesn’t take his call . Certified China as not manipulating currency. His grandkids sings for Mr. Xi. Tweets great things about Xi.

      • Unelected Leader

        I know that. Apparently you don’t read my posts on these threads? Very disappointed so far with Trump in this regard. But at least his time is not up so there still some hope.

        • MyWord245

          Fair enough. I think this is a difficult issue. Right now, China has figured out a strategy to check its adversaries. They control NK and Pakistan to hold the world hostage to their expansionist agenda. Only way to neutralize their advantage is to empower Taiwan and Japan (position nuclear forces in both countries). Also impose heavy economic price on them (trade? Currency?). But these are not easy steps to take — especially considering that we as a nation don’t seem to have consensus on anything.

          • Unelected Leader

            Imposing sanctions on SOEs and other companies and individuals supporting NK should’ve been done 10+ years ago. And for all the good talk, Trump failed to finally label the CCP what they are as currency manipulators. The US let’s internationalists who certainly do not care about, quite possibly even hate, America write its trade and likely foreign policy generally since the late 70s. Right about the time the country’s decline began and the ascent of so many others began.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    America should recognize the territorial rights of the nations around the South China Sea (as per the LOST, China is signatory to and the arbitration court’s finding against them), and Demand $10 Trillion (to be distributed on a sq/km basis to those nations) from China for those rights. When China refuses, raise the price to $20 Trillion, and form an alliance from India to Japan and from South Korea to Australia. And then threaten to blockade China’s Ports, and bomb the militarized islands out of existence, if they don’t pay or leave.

    The benefits of this Strategy include, American Leadership, Greed will be working for us, and China will be justly disciplined.

    This is a much better strategy than the bogus “Strongly worded letter” the cowardly diplomats are always pushing. see above.

  • FriendlyGoat

    China has, perhaps correctly from its point of view, concluded that most Americans (and hence their administrations including this one) have been and are primarily preoccupied with other things than defending the maritime rights of Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

  • Bankotsu

    But how does this gel with Trump’s “America First” policy?

    South China sea has nothing whatsoever to do with America.

  • Bankotsu

    “In order to alter China’s incentives, the United States
    should issue a clear warning: that if China continues to construct
    artificial islands or stations powerful military assets, such as
    long-range missiles or combat aircraft, on those it has already built,
    the United States will fundamentally change its policy toward the South
    China Sea. Shedding its position of neutrality, Washington would stop
    calling for restraint and instead increase its efforts to help the
    region’s countries defend themselves against Chinese coercion.”

    Hello? Anybody home?

    This has nothing to do with “America First”.

    This is not “America First”.

    This is political garbage.

  • Isaiah6020

    Barack Obama everyone!!! Barack Obama!!!!

  • The U.S. cannot punish China the same way it does Russia over Crimea…we are too deeply intertwined on an economic level.

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