United States ups the ante in China rivalry with Asia Reassurance Initiative Act


The China-US rivalry in Asia – especially in the South China Sea – will intensify with the passage of American legislation underlining Washington’s commitment to the region, analysts said.

The Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which US President Donald Trump signed into law this week, signalled that the US wanted to retain its allies and mobilise them to counter China if necessary, the observers said.

Collin Koh, a maritime security specialist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said that despite a recent easing tensions, the act’s broad regional scope meant “we would likely see gradual effects impinging on Sino-US rivalry in Southeast Asia”.

“We can’t underestimate the potential ramifications of [the act] contributing to the sharpening of the Sino-US rivalry, even if it’s still quite another matter whether the Trump administration will truly follow up,” Koh said.

Beijing and Washington are increasingly at odds over the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year. Each country has sent warships and military aircraft through the contested waters in patrols that have led to at least one near miss.

US President Donald Trump signs the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act into law on Monday. Photo: Handout.
In a sign that such confrontation might continue, acting US Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan told senior leaders at the Pentagon on Wednesday that China would be a top priority for the military.

According to the act, to US will reaffirm security commitments to its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, and spend US$1.5 billion annually for five years to improve its regional presence. It will also build security partnerships in Southeast Asia.

Part of the strategy will be conducting freedom of navigation operations with those allies in the East and South China seas, missions that Beijing sees as an excuse for the US to flex its military muscle.