From “Assuring Freedom of Navigation” to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in the South China Sea


As I predicted a while back, the United States has quietly ditched its old, underperforming pretext for confrontation in the South China Sea and is sidestepping into a new justification.

I do not care deeply about America’s stake in the South China Sea so I have little interest in slogging through recent American & Chinese contributions to the controversy du jour: the viability or lack thereof of the notorious nine-dash line or 9DL under international law.

The only people who should give a sh*t about the South China Sea are the Chinese. Much of the PRC’s trade and Middle East energy pass through the SCS; and the determined US rapprochement with Myanmar (and anti-Chinese activism by the PRC’s domestic Myanmar opponents) has threatened one of the PRC’s important energy security countermoves: the Rakhine to Kunming oil and gas pipeline originating beyond the western end of the Malacca Straits.

But the PRC’s conflicts with its SCS neighbors—and the ridiculous burden of the nine-dash line—are China’s key areas of strategic & diplomatic vulnerability. The United States has been working assiduously to exploit the PRC’s difficulties and foreclose the logical trajectory for conflict resolution since 2010, when Hillary Clinton declared the United States had a strategic interest in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, a sea I might point out, which is of overwhelming strategic importance to only one major power, the PRC.

Instead of allowing the conflicts to resolve themselves through bilateral discussions, with the PRC basically sticking it to Vietnam and the Philippines and confirming its dominant strategic posture in the South China Sea, the United States worked overtly to internationalize them through ASEAN and has discretely encouraged the Philippines and Vietnam to defy the PRC and thereby keep the conflicts alive.


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