It’s been a tumultuous year for the US in the Pacific. Policymakers need to remember China sees things differently from them.
For much of the past couple of decades, the Persian Gulf region has been seen as the US national security policy hot spot. But in recent months especially a series of events have underscored how quickly this is changing. And these events beg an important question—is the United States’ security strategy moving quickly enough to keep up?
Trouble on the Korean Peninsula is nothing new, but relations between North and South Korea have continued to deteriorate in the aftermath of the sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan, in which 46 sailors lost their lives. South Korea says an investigation proves the vessel was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, although Pyongyang has dismissed the incident as ‘a conspiratorial farce and charade orchestrated by the US imperialists and the south Korean puppet forces.’
Indeed, North Korea has continued to ratchet up the rhetoric. In June, it accused the US of taking ‘various types of heavy weapons’ into the demilitarized zone around Panmunjom and called the incident a ‘premeditated provocation aimed to spark off a serious military conflict.’ The same day, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry referred to recently declassified US documents referencing a planned nuclear attack by the US against North Korea in 1969 in the aftermath of an incident involving a US EC-121 military aircraft and suggested there’d been no change in US policy.
Last month, North Korea reportedly went as far as to threaten to use nuclear weapons in response to joint US/South Korea exercises in the Sea of Japan, while this month its forces fired 110 artillery rounds into the Yellow Sea in response to another South Korean exercise. Although were no reports of the shells striking targets, North Korea had still made its point—Seoul is within range of North Korea’s artillery and it wouldn’t need to resort to nuclear weapons to wreck havoc on its neighbour if it decided to do so.
But it’s the United States’ increasingly turbulent ties with China that have been stealing most of the headlines.
During a press conference given while attending a regional security conference in Vietnam in July, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton emphasized the US had a ‘deepening engagement with Southeast Asia.’ And, in remarks that angered China, Clinton addressed territorial conflicts over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Arguing that the US didn’t take sides in the dispute, she went on to say that it supported freedom of navigation and suggested the competing parties should ‘pursue their territorial claims and accompanying rights to maritime space in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.’
The comments earned an angry response from China, whose foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, stated, ‘The seemingly impartial remarks were in effect an attack on China and were designed to give the international community a wrong impression that the situation in the South China Sea is a cause for grave concern.’
Photo Credit: US NavyView as Single Page