Ambiguity afloat in South China Sea By Roberto Tofani
By Roberto Tofani
HANOI - The United States' indecisive ''pivot'' to the Asia-Pacific has created a situation of strategic ambiguity in the South China Sea. While regional countries believe that Washington will implement the policy, including its promise to base 60% of its naval assets to the region by 2020, it remains unclear how the shift will impact on the region's escalating maritime disputes.
There are rising regional perceptions that the US intends to fortify its presence only to the degree that it does not upset China, especially with a new, untested leadership under Xi Jinping now at the helm in Beijing. Some believe the US has shied from its earlier strong declaration at the July 2010 Association of Southeast
Asian Nations Regional Forum (ARF), where Washington's then top diplomat, Hillary Clinton, said the US had a ''national interest'' in freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The strategic ambiguity and questions of political will have pushed claimants in the disputes, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, to strengthen their alliances with other regional powers, including Australia, India and Japan. Some analysts believe the overlapping and somewhat competitive alliances could further destabilize the area as China begins to feel a sense of encirclement from what it views as outside actors in the disputes. Others have hedged their recent warming trends towards the US. READ MORE