Let’s be clear about it. America’s strengths in Asia remain formidable. Of course, it’s worrisome that with the exception of the Philippines and Vietnam, no one else wants to stand tall and challenge China to be a more responsible global leader. Sure, Mr. Harrington is spot on in his razor sharp analysis. China has wrongly assumed that their dynamic economy and bullish investments in ASEAN infrastructure will win friends and thereby foster bilateral and multilateral arrangements. While China’s rhetoric is about peace and prosperity for all, its rising military influence reflected in their reclamations offers a conundrum especially for Washington, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan and Taiwan. As a journalist my focus has been largely focused on the systematic degradation of the South China Sea, once so rich in biodiversity and now exploited from fisheries, overfishing, destruction of coral reefs all done in the name of sovereignty claims and maritime boundary disputes.
What the sea tells us is that China urgently needs to take the lead in protecting the marine resources by designating a marine protected area in the Spratlys and dismantling their military structures. The fish are migratory and so by their very nature they are shared stocks to feed an increasing population growth. So maybe ASEAN leaders will rise to their feet and force China to create this MPA network now before it is too late.
James Borton is a non-resident fellow at the Saigon Center for International Studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Ho Chi Minh City.