The territorial dispute in the South China Sea is not considered of vital interest to the United States, according to an article from Time.com.
After the Obama administration clarified that the United States would not intervene in the recent standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels over the Scarborough Shoal, the Chinese patrol ships and fishing boats have been allowed to sail through the disputed waters for as long as they want. For the United States, the most crucial issue regrading the South China Sea is keeping vital shipping lanes free from potential interference. The territorial disputes recently simmering in those areas — most notably over the Spratly islands and Scarborough Shoal — are not of direct concern for policy makers in Washington.
“The US is not going to send the 7th Fleet to resolve problems with fish or coral in the South China Sea, because that is not the vital interest of the United States,” said Donald Weatherbee, professor from the Walker Institute of International Studies of University of South Carolina. “The vital American national interest is in freedom of navigation.” It is difficult to imagine the United States engaging in direct confrontation with China over possession of reefs, rocks and lagoons.
Yet despite circumventing direct intervention, the US has been far from absent in the Asia-Pacific arena. In recent weeks, the US defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has traveled throughout East Asia, enhancing partnerships with the Philippines under the direction of the US military’s new “Pivot to Asia” policy. Clark Air Base and Subic Bay naval facilities have again been opened for US troop rotations, port visits and training exercises after the meeting of President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines and Obama in Washington on June 8. The sharing of intelligence and cooperation on maritime security between the two nations has also increased.
Other military maneuvers to “rebalance” the US military have included an increase of the US naval presence in the Asia-Pacific theater, the building of a joint training base in the Marianas and stationing Marines in Australia. Although the US denies the moves are related to China, others are not so convinced. “China is going to view this as another example of containment, no matter what the US calls it,” said Jeffrey Hornung, associate professor of Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center in Honolulu.
Beijing, having made very few friends over its claims to the South China Sea, would not be audacious enough to challenge the US right to navigation in the region as well.
SOURCE: China Times