Obama strategy in South China Sea dismissed as ‘nothing but symbolic’

Special to WorldTribune.com

The Obama administration has no coherent policy on China’s pursuit for total control in the South China Sea,” a key U.S. senator said.

“We’ve reached a point now where there’s no denying the fact that China has positioned itself as a geopolitical rival to the United States,” Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, told the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Bob Corker
Sen. Bob Corker

“I don’t know why we’re not doing it (freedom of navigation operations) weekly or monthly,” Corker added. “I don’t think it’s any question but that China views that solely as a light-touch, symbolic effort, and I have no idea why we’re not cruising within those 12 nautical miles on a weekly basis.”

“The calculated and incremental strategy on the part of Beijing to challenge U.S. power is having real consequences for U.S. interests and international norms in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.”

Corker’s comments came as China reportedly was moving to build another artificial island near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The shoal is located 120 nautical miles off the Philippines, where the U.S. military has bases of its own.

When asked during the Foreign Relations Committee meeting on April 27 if China is seeking complete control of the sea, Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken responded: “Yes, I think that is China’s objective.”

Corker said in reference to U.S. patrols that “neither the rhetoric nor the freedom of navigation operations have deterred or slowed down China’s land-reclamation activities, including the stationing of military related assets on these artificial islands. Moreover, many experts assess it is increasingly likely that Beijing will declare an air defense identification zone in the South China Sea.”

Blinken said the Obama administration has been “very actively and very aggressively messaging China privately and publicly about its obligations, as well as the obligation of other claimants.”

As long as the U.S. “remains fully present” in the region, “any tactical advantage that China derives from some of these (island) outposts will be vastly outweighed” by “alienating virtually every country in the neighborhood,” Blinken said.

Meanwhile, in a major foreign policy speech on April 27, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump said “fixing our relations” with China depends on a strengthened America.

“China respects strength, and by letting them take advantage of us economically, which they are doing like never before, we have lost all of their respect.

“Look at what China is doing in the South China Sea. They’re not supposed to be doing it. No respect for this country or this president. We can both benefit or we can both go our separate ways, if need be – that’s what’s going to have to happen,” Trump said.