South China Sea Standoff: The U.S. Must Get Off The Sidelines

Fourth, the U.S. should conclude the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). That free trade agreement is being negotiated by the U.S., Vietnam, Japan, and nine other countries that make up over one third of world trade and about forty percent of global output. The TPP will open up its signatories to more trade and investment. For instance, numerous textile companies are moving from China to Vietnam because wages are lower and the TPP will cut textile tariffs. As TPP countries prosper, they can increase their military spending. And by creating such a large market, the pact will reduce its members’ economic reliance on China, giving them greater freedom to oppose Beijing’s power grabs.

The single time that the U.S. and its allies responded firmly to recent Chinese aggression, China essentially backed down. Days after China expanded its ADIZ, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul sent warplanes through it. The U.S. and Japan provided military aid to Southeast Asian countries embroiled in territorial disputes with China, and Japan increased its military budget and drafted its first national security strategy, which focused on countering China. South Korea enlarged its ADIZ to include areas claimed by China. Beijing has since largely fallen silent about its ADIZ and not followed up on its statements about creating an ADIZ in the South China Sea.

The U.S. and its Asian partners must demonstrate that they can regularly make tough, coordinated responses to Chinese aggression. Otherwise, Beijing will further doubt U.S. commitments and continue trying to control Asia.

Paul J. Leaf is an attorney at an international law firm, a commentator on U.S. foreign policy, and a former editor of the Stanford Law Review.