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Beijing's rising assertiveness left it increasingly isolated, said Nikkei Asian Review

September 15, 2020 | 15:21

The US Indo-Pacific Strategy, with the aim of keeping the region "free and open", is receiving more and more support in recent months, due to China's aggressiveness in the Bien Dong Sea.

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A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes over a Vietnamese ship in the Bien Dong Sea in May 2014: Indo-Pacific nations appear increasingly perturbed by China's behavior. (Photo: Reuters)

According to an article by Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corporation, and former an adviser at the Pentagon, the US Indo-Pacific strategy is working, mainly due to China's action on the Bien Dong Sea.

"Beijing's rising assertiveness against Hong Kong, Taiwan, and counter claimants in the East and South China Seas, and now even against India along the Himalayas, has resulted in unprecedented agreement across the Indo-Pacific and beyond that China's muscular approach is an unwelcome development in the region," he wrote on Nikkei Asian Review.

Countries strengthen security cooperation

Grossman analyzed that if Beijing continues to ramp up its assertiveness, additional countries are likely to follow suit, leaving China further isolated.

For instance, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, comprising Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S have repeatedly affirmed the importance of maintaining a rules-based international order and norms of behavior. Their security cooperation is deepening.

On July 1, Australia's defense ministry released a strategic update and force structure plan aimed at countering China. A few days later, China and India agreed to end a military standoff along their disputed land border, but the damage has been done. Now even India's most ardent China supporters are hardening their positions. On July 14, Tokyo released its annual defense white paper slamming China's relentless and unilateral attempts to "change the status quo by coercion in the sea area around the Senkaku Islands."

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U.S. Marines during an exercise at a military camp in Zambales, Philippines, pictured in April 2019: the VFA authorizes U.S. military forces to easily maneuver within the Philippines to respond to China-related contingencies. (Photo: Reuters)

Southeast Asia nations' stances

At the ASEAN foreign ministers meeting on September 9, Vietnamese foreign minister Pham Binh Minh said "we welcome the U.S.'s constructive and responsive contributions to ASEAN's efforts to maintaining the peace, stability, and developments in the South China Sea." In addition, Vietnam is currently bolstering security ties with a range of other countries, including Australia, Japan, and India.

Malaysia made a submission to the UN in July 29 rejecting "in its entirety" China's earlier submissions to the UN regarding South China Sea sovereignty. Earlier, on June 2, the anti-U.S. and pro-China president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, postponed a final decision on whether to terminate the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA, in large part due to continued Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.

Indonesia on July 22 held a major military exercise in the region, clearly aimed at deterring further Chinese incursions into its exclusive economic zone. Even Brunei, on July 20, normally the quietest of claimants, surprisingly emphasized the need to uphold the rule of law in accordance with UNCLOS to settle disputes.

However, most, if not all Southeast Asian countries are very likely to remain in hedging mode to avoid antagonizing either side, Grossman stated.

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