Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific is hardly a new development.
But what was once confined to the construction of artificial islands in the hotly contested waters of the South China Sea near the Philippines has expanded into new fronts as China eyes Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, where America’s day begins. Even American Samoa is faced with challenges.
In addition to the long-ignored U.S. territories, there are three island-republics — the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau — that have relied upon the grace and favor of the United States since the postwar years. The relationship between these freely associated states and Washington is governed through an instrument called the Compact of Free Association.
Together, the territories and island-republics are geographically situated between Hawaii and the Philippines — itself a former U.S. territory that should have been admitted to the Union — in a vast swath of the Indo-Pacific informally called the American Lake. The nickname reflects what was an exclusive U.S. sphere of influence. Until the rise of China, the only other power exercising postwar clout here was Australia, which is also struggling to confront Chinese influence.
The receding of the American Lake became most evident during the final years of President Obama’s administration.