August 24, 2018

HMM: China’s Charm Offensive in the South China Sea.

Since the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in favour of the Philippines, China has actively engaged in a campaign to restore its image among ASEAN countries by affecting a more cooperative stance on the issue. In April 2017, China reopened the Scarborough Shoal to Philippine fishing vessels, which had been barred from the area following a tense two-month standoff in 2012. Economic initiatives for Southeast Asia were liberally poured out through the Belt and Road Initiative.

China also agreed to restart negotiations for the code of conduct, which had been stalled since the signing of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002. Earlier this month, the table-top phase of the inaugural ASEAN–China maritime exercise was held in Singapore. These olive branches from Beijing were generally well received in the various ASEAN capitals, and China is keen to maintain the goodwill it has generated over the past year.

At the same time, many ASEAN countries have begun to question the U.S. commitment to the region.

Years of Obama’s empty “pivot to Asia” promises will have that effect.

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