The Week Donald Trump Lost the South China Sea

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Vietnam’s capitulation shows China’s neighbors fear the U.S. no longer has their backs.

The Week Donald Trump Lost the South China Sea
Vietnam’s history is full of heroic tales of resistance to China. But this month Hanoi bent the knee to Beijing, humiliated in a contest over who controls the South China Sea, the most disputed waterway in the world. Hanoi has been looking to Washington for implicit backing to see off Beijing’s threats. At the same time, the Trump administration demonstrated that it either does not understand or sufficiently care about the interests of its friends and potential partners in Southeast Asia to protect them against China. Southeast Asian governments will conclude that the United States does not have their backs. And while Washington eats itself over Russian spies and health care debates, one of the world’s most crucial regions is slipping into Beijing’s hands.

There’s no tenser set of waters in the world than the South China Sea. For the last few years, China and its neighbors have been bluffing, threatening, cajoling, and suing for control of its resources. In June, Vietnam made an assertive move. After two and a half years of delay, it finally granted Talisman Vietnam (a subsidiary of the Spanish energy firm Repsol) permission to drill for gas at the very edge of Hanoi’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea.

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