Don’t Blame US Pivot for South China Sea Row


China is once again accusing the U.S. pivot of causing the recent tensions in the South China Sea.

In the wake of the U.S. and China squaring off over the South China Sea at the ASEAN Regional Forum, Xinhua published a blistering critique of U.S. policy towards the waters.

“By stoking the flames,” Xinhua opined, “Washington is further emboldening countries like the Philippines and Vietnam to take a hardline stance against China, raising suspicion over the real intention of the United States and mak[ing] an amicable solution more difficult to reach.”

The editorial continued: “It can hardly be accepted as a coincidence that the previously calm South China Sea has lost its tranquility since the United States embarked on its pivot to Asia strategy.”

This is not uncommon; China regularly accuses the U.S. pivot of stoking tensions in the South China Sea. In particular, Beijing claims that the U.S. pivot has emboldened allies and partners like the Philippines and Vietnam to take a hardline stance against China, which has perpetuated the various disputes in the South China Sea.

This is patently false. To begin with, even if the U.S. pivot did embolden U.S. allies and partners (and I don’t believe this is the case), it is still China that is acting in an offensive manner in the disputed waters. For example, China took the offensive in placing an oil rig in disputed waters with Vietnam, and trying to block the same resupplies the Philippines has been bringing to the Second Thomas Shoal for decades. Similarly, it is China that has stepped up patrols of disputed areas of the South China Sea, such as the Scarborough Shoal, and it is also Beijing that is building various fixtures on disputed islands it administers.

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