Analysts: US Military Moves in South China Sea Little Help to Vietnam, Philippines

TAIPEI, TAIWAN U.S. B-52 bombers sent over the disputed South China Sea this week will, for lack of a broader foreign policy, fall short of empowering smaller countries to resist China's maritime sovereignty claims, analysts say.

The U.S. Air Force flew two bombers Tuesday from a base in the Indian Ocean to near the South China Sea's Spratly Islands, the Air Force Times online reported. That movement followed seven passages of U.S. naval vessels through the same sea since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.

Washington wants to discourage Beijing from militarizing the Spratly archipelago and other islands in the contested, resource-rich South China Sea, said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington.

In the Philippines, the armed forces and some lawmakers want more U.S. military support, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at University of the Philippines Diliman.

But President Rodrigo Duterte opposes reliance on the Philippines' former colonizer, the United States. He set aside the maritime sovereignty issue in 2016 to push for economic ties with China.

The shape of a larger policy

There could be a greater assertiveness on the part of some of the claimants like Vietnam for the U.S. to play a greater role and for some groups in the Philippines to actually maybe pressure the government to at least be more assertive diplomatically, Atienza said.

China and the Philippines faced off for four years over Scarborough Shoal, which lies within Manila's exclusive economic zone but was occupied by Beijing's ships in 2012.

More confidence in the United States as a defender against China would come from tighter military and even trade cooperation in Southeast Asia, analysts say. Washington needs a robust diplomatic strategy to isolate China including economic measures, according to Poling.

Military cooperation such as naval training and use of American weaponry would also inspire the smaller claimant states, scholars say.

But Vietnam is already wary of the United States because it withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement last year, Sun said. Vietnam would have gained as an exporter to the United States.

I think there's a question about the credibility and also the sustainability (of Washington), Sun said. I think the more U.S. interest being paid to the South China Sea will strengthen other claimant countries' position, but whether they will base their policy on the current administration flying a B-52 bomber remains to be seen.

Source: Voice of America

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