How Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’ is com­ing apart

Bei­jing con­tin­ues to flaunt in­ter­na­tional law in the South China Sea

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Bob Dole

As China in­creases its pres­ence in the South China Sea by build­ing is­lands that lit­er­ally ex­pand its ter­ri­tory, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s avowed and widely hailed “pivot to Asia” is de­gen­er­at­ing into a gen­u­flec­tion to Bei­jing.

In short or­der, the Chi­nese regime has turned reefs in the Spratly Is­lands, over which sev­eral Asian na­tions claim sovereignty, into 2900 acres of is­lands that it can use for mil­i­tary pur­poses. Mo­tor­ized ar­tillery pieces have al­ready been ob­served on one of the is­lands, and China’s airstrip on one reef dwarfs those op­er­ated by other coun­tries in the is­land group.

Es­ca­lat­ing its bid for hege­mony of the Sea, Bei­jing has flaunted in­ter­na­tional law by warn­ing other coun­tries that they must ob­tain the regime’s per­mis­sion be­fore fly­ing or sail­ing within twelve nau­ti­cal miles of the re­claimed is­lands. At the same time, it is dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing its anti-ac­cess/anti-de­nial (A2/AD) forces and other naval ca­pa­bil­i­ties. It al­ready has 1500 short­range bal­lis­tic mis­siles po­si­tioned on the main­land and aimed at our na­tion’s close ally Tai­wan, to which the United States is com­mit­ted to pro­vide de­fen­sive aid un­der the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act of 1979, which the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly iden­ti­fied as an “im­por­tant se­cu­rity and eco­nomic part­ner,” and which I have sup­ported as a sen­a­tor and as coun­selor for Tai­wan in the pri­vate sec­tor. In ad­di­tion to its short-range and anti-ship mis­siles, Bei­jing has more than 60 sub­marines and in­tends to add 20 more to its fleet within the next five years. By 2023, it is ex­pected to ac­quire more than 40,000 stealthy un­manned air ve­hi­cles, many of which will fea­ture pre­ci­sion-strike ca­pa­bil­ity.

The United States’ na­tional in­ter­est in ad­dress­ing this dan­ger­ously gross mil­i­ta­riza­tion is ob­vi­ous. In ad­di­tion to the grow­ing men­ace to Tai­wan, Bei­jing is pos­ing a di­rect threat to the U.S. Navy and com­mer­cial ship­ping. The South China Sea car­ries 30 per­cent of the world’s an­nual mar­itime trade, in­clud­ing $1.2 tril­lion in ship-borne trade bound for the United States.

Last month, the Depart­ment of De­fense re­ported that Bei­jing is un­der­tak­ing a “steady pro­gres­sion of small, in­cre­men­tal steps to in­crease its ef­fec­tive con­trol over dis­puted ar­eas.” China’s strat­egy is “in­cre­men­tal” in or­der to “avoid es­ca­la­tion to mil­i­tary con­flict,” a goal that the United States it­self seems to share to the point of ef­fec­tively deny­ing its in­ter­ests in free and open seas; pre­serv­ing the democ­racy and free­dom of Tai­wan; and pre­vent­ing Bei­jing from fur­ther desta­bi­liza­tion of and grow­ing dom­i­nance over the re­gion. As is too of­ten the case, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been big on rhetoric, but short on ac­tion. Its thus-far fee­ble re­sponse has been largely lim­ited to pledg­ing an in­creased num­ber of mil­i­tary and hu­man­i­tar­ian drills in the Asia-Pa­cific and com­mit­ting to as­sign more of its ex­ist­ing world­wide naval fleet to pa­trols and home-ports in the re­gion.

Much stronger mea­sures are re­quired. In the wake of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi’s ex­change of talk­ing points in Washington last week, Pres­i­dent Obama should now chal­lenge him at long last to clar­ify China’s claims and in­ten­tions re­gard­ing the Sea. At the same time, he should ini­ti­ate mul­ti­lat­eral talks to re­solve the cri­sis. If Bei­jing again re­fuses to par­tic­i­pate, Pres­i­dent Obama should pro­ceed with­out it and pre­pare pub­licly to pro­vide ad­di­tional ar­ma­ments to Tai­wan, the Philip­pines, and Malaysia as nec­es­sary.

The United States should also im­ple­ment a key el­e­ment of Tai­wanese Pres­i­dent Ma Ying-jeou’s re­cent South China Sea Peace Ini­tia­tive, which the State Depart­ment has praised for its “call on claimants to ex­er­cise re­straint, to re­frain from uni­lat­eral ac­tions that could es­ca­late ten­sions, and to re­spect in­ter­na­tional law” — that is, pre­cisely what Bei­jing is not do­ing. Great merit lies in the plan’s recog­ni­tion of the im­por­tance of eco­nomic in­ter­ests in re­solv­ing the cri­sis — specif­i­cally in Ma’s ob­ser­va­tion that while “sovereignty can­not be di­vided, re­sources can be shared.” In ad­di­tion to host­ing ten per­cent of global fish­eries pro­duc­tion, the Sea are home to an es­ti­mated 11 bil­lion bar­rels and 190 tril­lion cu­bic feet of oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion should steer mul­ti­lat­eral talks to launch ex­plo­ration of seabed re­sources with­out prej­u­dic­ing sovereignty claims.

As I wrote in these pages last Jan­uary, it should also ful­fill Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s 14-year-old com­mit­ment to pro­vide Tai­wan with eight diesel-elec­tric sub­marines. More broadly, the ad­min­is­tra­tion should be hav­ing more ships built in­stead of shuf­fling naval de­ploy­ments and slash­ing our mil­i­tary bud­get in gen­eral. For its part, Congress should ex­er­cise over­sight to en­sure that our Navy is large enough to counter China’s vastly im­prov­ing A2/AD forces while meet­ing its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties else­where in our trou­bled world. Lastly, I urge the pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from both par­ties to ad­vo­cate stronger poli­cies not only to ad­dress the Chi­nese threat, but also to ex­er­cise greater U.S. lead­er­ship on a global ba­sis. Bob Dole, Kansas Repub­li­can, is a for­mer Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader and was the 1996 Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent. Note: This ma­te­rial is dis­trib­uted by Bob Dole (reg­is­tered un­der Al­ston & Bird LLP) on be­half of the Taipei Eco­nomic and Cul­tural Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Of­fice. Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion is avail­able at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, Washington, D.C.


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