No one wants to criticize China on the South China Sea anymore - SupChina

No one wants to criticize China on the South China Sea anymore

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U.S. President Donald Trump used his Twitter megaphone to declare on November 15 that “our great country is respected again in Asia,” and later gave a speech in which he further boasted that America’s “standing in the world has never been stronger than it is right now.” But in at least one major hot-button Asian issue, America’s standing appears to be notably declining, and China’s notably rising: the South China Sea.

  • The New York Times notes (paywall) that though Trump made references to the conflict, saying that “no one owns the ocean” and that “freedom of navigation and overflight are critical,” he “did not single out China for criticism, continuing a pattern of soft-pedaling on a dispute that could annoy United States allies.”
  • The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which in previous years has “noted concerns ‘expressed by some’ leaders” about China’s actions in the South China Sea, this year made no mention of concerns in a statement, the Nikkei Asian Review reports (paywall). This is a “clear diplomatic victory” for China, Nikkei says.
  • Japan, also, seems to be newly reluctant to criticize China’s claims in the South China Sea. The South China Morning Post reported on November 15 that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “has repeatedly raised the South China Sea issue during his last five years in office – much to Beijing’s irritation – so his silence this week was a marked contrast to the past.”
  • SCMP attributed Abe’s silence to his efforts to further diplomacy on North Korea, but the New York Times says (paywall) that experts suggest that “Mr. Abe appears keenly aware of Mr. Trump’s erratic swings in opinions and loyalties,” and is “naturally wondering if the United States may make some kind of deal with China that could put Japan at a disadvantage.” Trump’s “failing to press China on its military buildup in the South China Sea” has reinforced the perception that China is “taking advantage of an American retreat,” analysts say.

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Lucas Niewenhuis

Lucas Niewenhuis is an associate editor at SupChina who helps curate daily news and produce the company’s newsletter, app, and website content. Previously, Lucas researched China-Africa relations at the Social Science Research Council and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. He has studied Chinese language and culture in Shanghai and Beijing, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.