Asian countries are increasingly pushing back against China’s sweeping territorial claims and bullying tactics in the South China Sea. On Sunday, a Japanese submarine made a port call in the Philippines for the first time in 15 years, a sign of growing security cooperation. Last week, Vietnam seized a Chinese ship for illegally entering its territorial waters, and Indonesia threatened to defend its own claims with F-16 fighter jets.
Meanwhile, President Obama used a meeting with President Xi Jinping last week to deliver what one administration official described as “a very direct and unvarnished earful” about how seriously Washington views China’s behavior. And on Monday the United States and the Philippines began annual war games that will certainly show that the Philippines can count on the United States to counter Beijing.
The South China Sea is rich in natural resources and serves as a vital waterway for $5 trillion in trade. The Chinese have been engaged in a campaign to transform contested reefs and rocks into artificial islands with airstrips and other military structures. This has alarmed neighboring countries, which have competing claims and fear that China will use these islands to interfere with navigation and other countries’ rights to fish and drill for oil and gas.