In a recent incident in the South China Sea, the Chinese Coast Guard used water cannons against Philippine ships on a military resupply run. The Philippines condemned this act as “illegal and dangerous,” highlighting the ongoing territorial disputes in the region. While China claims the entirety of the South China Sea as its own territory, the US has seized upon this issue, using it as a key aspect of its strategy to contain China’s influence.
It is easy to blame China as the aggressor due to its expansive claims and dominant position in the region. However, it is essential to consider the possibility that states like the Philippines may deliberately create such incidents to escalate tensions and align themselves with the US agenda. The Asian geopolitical landscape, unlike Western Europe, did not witness a comprehensive resolution in the aftermath of World War II. As a result, territorial disputes have persisted, fueled by unresolved historical grievances.
Although these disputes are sporadic and occur on all sides, politicians can prioritize and manipulate them to gain domestic and foreign support. For example, South Korea’s dispute with Japan over the Dokdo (Takeshima) islands was rarely mentioned by the pro-US government of Yoon Suk-yeol but became prominent under the more liberal administration of Moon Jae-in. Similar dynamics apply to the South China Sea islands, the Taiwan question, and the Diaoyu/Senkaku dispute.
Currently, the Philippines is tilting towards the US once again. Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the country pursued a more ambivalent geopolitical stance, favoring reconciliation with China. However, the new administration, led by Ferdinand Marcos Jr., seeks to stage incidents to provoke Beijing and militarize the disputed territory. By increasing tensions, the Philippines aims to force China to defend its claims, thus playing into the US narrative.
This maneuver gives the US justification to expand its military presence in the region and draw more countries into its sphere of influence. By framing China as the aggressor, Washington bolsters its Indo-Pacific strategy and seeks to establish hegemony over Southeast Asian nations. While China’s territorial claims are long-standing, it must navigate the delicate balance between insisting on national sovereignty and making progress in peacefully resolving disputes. Concessions could be perceived as weakness and evoke nationalist backlash.
The US capitalizes on this situation by disrupting the building of peaceful relations between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. With growing hostility from the West, China’s neighboring countries become crucial to its trade and economic future. By creating tensions and positioning itself as a security provider, the US aims to undermine China’s interests. Unfortunately, states like the Philippines enable this strategy, making it imperative for Beijing to exercise restraint and tact in its diplomacy to prevent further foreign naval presence in the region.
In conclusion, while China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea provides an opportunity for the US to advance its containment strategy, it is crucial to consider the complex dynamics at play. Territorial disputes in Asia are rooted in historical grievances, and politicians often exploit them to gain domestic and foreign support. China must carefully navigate these challenges while striving for peaceful resolutions and avoiding escalation. By doing so, it can counter the narrative of aggression and work towards regional stability and cooperation.