Power Imbalance Beckons US, Japan To South China Sea

(MENAFN- Asia Times) There were many notable moments at the Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual regional defense summit organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore in the opening days of June.

They included some aggressive words about Taiwan from the new Chinese defense minister, Admiral Dong Jun; clear protests about civilian deaths in Gaza both from President-elect Prabowo Subianto of Indonesia and from the Malaysian defense minister; and a surprise appearance by President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, there to rally support among Southeast Asian and other middle-income powers for his peace summit in Switzerland on June 15-16.

But top prize undoubtedly went to President Ferdinand“Bongbong” Marcos of the Philippines, when he said that if a Filipino serviceman were to be killed by a Chinese water cannon during a confrontation in the South China Sea, it would almost certainly be considered an act of war.

America's Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, was rather more circumspect on this issue, given that an“act of war” would invoke the 1951 mutual defense treaty between the United States and the Philippines, the provisions of which Austin himself reaffirmed when signing new Bilateral Defense Guidelines in May 2023. But the message had nonetheless been sent, loud and clear.

President Marcos's remark, made in answer to a question from a Financial Times journalist, sent both a thrill and a chill around the room. For many people, it was a thrill to hear a Southeast Asian leader pushing back hard against Chinese bullying.

But there was also a chill because of the implications: that a war involving the world's two most powerful military forces could break out not just over the predictable issue of Taiwan, where preparations and negotiations offer hope of averting conflict, but also over the many disputed reefs and submerged shoals of the South China Sea where the potential for miscalculations and accidents at sea is abundant.


Asia Times

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