South China Sea becomes latest stage for US-China standoff

By Sara Gómez Armas

Manila, Jul 15 (efe-epa).- The heavily-disputed South China Sea has become the latest battlefield in the cold war between the United States and China, with both world powers conducting naval operations that threaten to escalate the diplomatic stand-off and fuel instability in the region.

The ongoing trade war, the blame game over Covid-19 and the sweeping national security law in Hong Kong provide a backdrop of simmering tensions as the US turns its focus to Beijing’s maritime claims in the South China Sea.

Murray Hiebert, the head of research at Bower Group Asia, said in a video conference organized by the Stratbase Institute in Manila on Tuesday that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were caught in the intersection of “increasing competition between the US and China.

“Southeast Asia doesn’t want to choose between Washington and Beijing because for a long time these countries have enjoyed the benefits from both worlds, building economic relations with China, while maintaining strong military ties with the US.

“The continuing success of Southeast Asia will depend greatly on whether the US and China can overcome their differences and build some level of mutual trust and work constructively to uphold a peaceful and stable order in the region,” he added.

The US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday that most of China’s offshore claims in the South China Sea were “completely unlawful.”

Washington instead recognizes the jurisdiction of several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines and Vietnam, over disputed maritime areas.

In the statement, Pompeo said: “Beijing uses intimidation to undermine the sovereign rights of Southeast Asian coastal states in the South China Sea, bully them out of offshore resources, assert unilateral dominion, and replace international law with ‘might makes right.’”

Beijing wasted no time in responding to Pompeo’s remarks, saying: “Under the pretext of preserving stability, (the US) is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region.”

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