U.S. uses small strategic groups to get its way

2024-04-08 10:01:21China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

With allies Japan and Philippines, it aims to encircle China, intensifying instability

The United States is forming small coalitions around China, aiming to economically decouple from it and encircle it in terms of security, experts say. This approach could heighten division and fuel confrontation in the Asia-Pacific, potentially disrupting regional peace and development, they said.

For the first time the U.S., Japan and the Philippines will hold a trilateral summit at the White House on Thursday, at which talks are expected to focus on economic collaboration, energy supply chains and security, the White House said last month.

Security collaboration within this new grouping has drawn a lot of attention, and the three countries, with Australia, held their first joint naval exercises in the South China Sea on Sunday. There are also reports indicating that the three parties will launch joint naval patrols in the South China Sea this year.

Zhang Jie, a researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, said such moves will introduce the risk of military conflict and breed confrontation and disrupt peace and development in the Asia-Pacific.

"Manila might be encouraged to take reckless measures that could heighten the risk in the maritime front line with Beijing. Additionally, the risk of accidental friction increases because of the concentration of vessels in a confined sea area."

The formation of the U.S., Japan and the Philippines grouping also signifies a shift in Washington's alliance structure as it uses Tokyo and Manila as subcenters of its so-called Indo-Pacific strategy, in addition to its core alliances through the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; AUKUS, comprising Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.; and the G7, Zhang said.

This maneuver is part of a broader U.S. strategy to reinforce its maritime blockade against China, indicating a complex web that extends far beyond the concerns of "territorial disputes "in the South China Sea, she said.

As Japan and the Philippines locate near the crucial Taiwan Strait, the group's ultimate aim is to strategically position itself over the strait, she said.

Zhou Yongsheng, a professor in the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing, said the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea and the South China Sea are strategically interconnected.

Japan is showing a tendency to view China as a potential threat as the latter continues its rapid growth and development, Zhou said.

"Japan, recognizing its limitations in directly curbing China's growth, has strategically aligned itself with the U.S. and is utilizing the Philippines as a pivotal leverage point in its efforts to contain China's expansion."

Full-scale participation by Japan's Self-Defense Forces is being considered for the annual joint military exercises named Balikatan conducted by U.S. and Philippine forces, the Japan News reported.

"Japan aims to reduce the pressure it may face in the East China Sea by creating disturbances elsewhere," Zhou said. "This dual approach from the north and south increases the potential of risks in the Taiwan Strait."

Rising military spending

In addition, Japan has significantly increased its military spending in recent years. Its defense budget this year is about 8 trillion yen ($53 billion), about 16.6 percent more than for fiscal 2023, and a record high.

"Japan's substantial increase in military spending evidently disrupts the balance in East Asia, potentially triggering a new round of the arms race," Zhou said, adding that Tokyo's increasingly vigorous military ambitions will add to the instability of the regional situation.

Compared with Japan, which has been playing an active role in U.S.-led alliances in the Asia-Pacific in recent years, the Philippines has emerged as a new key player in Washington's core alliance circle, primarily because of the current South China Sea disputes that can continuously provoke China, Zhang said.

The Philippines' recent bold actions are largely supported by the U.S. and its allies, she said.

The Philippines should realize that the support of forces outside the region comes at a price and will take it down a dangerous path, Zhou warned.


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