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Southeast Asia stands firm in the South China Sea

Author: Gregory B. Pauling, CSIS

The situation in the South China Sea is by no means stable. Chinese ships engaged in dangerous and escalating collisions with other countries’ ships on a regular basis throughout 2022. But for the first time in his decade, Beijing’s control over the disputed waters has made no measurable progress.

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and Maritime Militia were deployed at the same pace and in the same numbers as in 2021.Dozens of CCGs and hundreds of militia Boats operated daily across the waterway, harassing civil and military vessels in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asian governments, however, for the most part maintained their positions.

The CCG and maritime militia engaged in a series of operations. dangerous encounter In late March and early April, CCG, under a joint project with the University of the Philippines, harassed a Taiwanese scientific research vessel operating in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Another CCG vessel harassed a Norwegian research vessel contracted to search for oil and gas near Palawan. As a result, Manila has ordered a moratorium on all exploration work in these areas.And in the most dangerous series of incidents, CCG and professional maritime militia The ship prevented supply ships from reaching Philippine forces at No. 2 Thomas Reef in April and June.

On June 30, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. was inaugurated as President of the Philippines.In a possible sign of goodwill, the CCG and militia have stopped physically blocking resupply missions, but still shadow and challenge they. In November, the Philippine Coast Guard accused his CCG of:Compulsory collectionFragments of a rocket being towed to the Philippine-controlled island of Titu. The Chinese government claimed the debris was handed over in accordance with “friendly negotiations”, but the video showed CCG cut the tow cable without warning and seized the debris.

Chinese militia boats continued to deploy across the Spratly Islands, prompting Manila to strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea.

The incident added momentum to deepening relations between the United States and the Philippines. Both sides have set a roadmap for renewing their alliance. joint vision statement During bilateral strategic dialogue in November 2021. In April 2022, they will maritime dialogue Address threats in the South China Sea gray zone. America announced in October $100 million Additional Foreign Military Funding to the Philippines. In November, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said: visited palawan We reaffirm our commitment to the U.S. alliance.And in mid-December, the United States endorsement In response to Philippine complaints against China’s activities.

Vietnam, on the other hand, is less public about its tense relationship with China, but tensions have not eased. The best indicator of Vietnam’s concerns about China is ambitious drive Expand your outpost in the Spratly Islands. In the second half of 2022, Vietnam will use dredging and reclamation to expand her four landforms – Namit Island, Pearson Reef, Sand Cay and Tenent Reef – to a combined 420 acres.

It pales in comparison to the 3,200 acres of land that China built between 2013 and 2016, but there are key legal and technical differences that keep Hanoi’s work from escalating too much. However, recent work is a notable change.

Namyit and Pearson are now Vietnam’s largest outposts in Nansha. They also boast the largest port. This suggests that Vietnam plans to deploy more naval and law enforcement ships to the island. Maritime militia ship It operates throughout the Spratly Islands and is harassing Vietnam’s activities.

Internationally, Hanoi showed a desire to distance itself from Washington. In July, Vietnam canceled a planned visit by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier.Vietnam analyst Carlyle Thayer He suggested that this may be due to concerns about rising tensions between China and the United States after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.Vietnam too decided not to Participated in the US semi-annual Rim of the Pacific exercises. General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Nguyen Hu Trong visited Beijing at the end of his October. warm up relations between China and Vietnam.

Despite their political distance from Washington, the two countries’ defense ties continued to deepen. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Ely Ratner visited Hanoi in September, defense policy dialogueHanoi was the first to invite US companies international defense exposition In December, we are trying to diversify our supply of military equipment. Vietnam is concerned about the deteriorating balance of power in the South China Sea and welcomes practical cooperation with the United States to address that imbalance. But I do not see it neither useful nor necessary to accept Washington uncritically.

Behavioral patterns in the South China Sea in 2022 were not fundamentally different from previous years. China’s Coast Guard and militia deployments will reach current pace by 2020 at the latest.Tensions between China and the Philippines escalate ever since at least 2018, denies the Duterte administration’s misuse of hopes to de-escalate tensions.vietnam is expanding It has pursued cautious military cooperation between its Spratly base and the United States for a decade.

The same pattern should apply in 2023, barring any major accidents. Joint development projectTensions will remain high, but Beijing is unlikely to make much headway. At least for now, China’s neighbors can hold their ground.

Gregory B. Poling is Senior Fellow and Director of the Southeast Asia Program and the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC.

This article is EAF Feature Series 2022 review and the year ahead.

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