A Partnership That Can Stop China in the South China Sea

American and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces ships transit in formation during the U.S.-Japan exercise Keen Sword 08. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

We need the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan to get on the same page.

As China continues to exhibit assertive—and sometimes provocative—behavior toward the United States and the other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, tensions are gradually rising in and around the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS). However, Washington’s regional allies and partners—Manila, Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo—possess a historic opportunity to enhance peace and stability in and around these troubled waters. By establishing a quadrilateral dialogue, they can facilitate mutual understanding of regional challenges as well as greater cooperation and collaboration; build more mutual trust and consensus; and develop an enduring forum and mechanism for strategic dialogue to manage tensions and maintain peace.

In 2008, the Lowy Institute’s Rory Medcalf reflected upon the “strange rise and fall” of the quadrilateral dialogue established by Australia, India, Japan and the United States. The dialogue quickly faltered, with observers arguing that it lacked a concrete agenda and raised fears of containment in Beijing. The experiment nevertheless “helped to cement awareness of the need for collaboration among those countries willing and able to address regional issues, like disaster relief or sea lane security, while confirming that such ventures” will ultimately prove “more sustainable if they are based on convergent interests and the ability to contribute rather than on supposed shared values.”

Following Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen’s May 20 inauguration and October 10 National Day speeches—in which she declined to endorse the so-called “one China” principle while pledging to pursue a consistent, predictable, sustainable and peaceful cross-Strait relationship—Beijing is intensifying diplomatic and economic pressure on Taipei in an attempt to decrease its international maneuvering space and compel it to accept China’s sovereignty demands. Beijing is vigorously attempting to isolate Taipei by calling upon foreign nations to deepen implementation of their “one China” policies, according to Beijing’s own strict interpretation. From forcing “Chinese Taipei” to participate in the World Health Assembly under a “one China” rubric, to successfully pressuring Cambodia, Malaysia, Kenya and Armenia to repatriate Taiwanese fraud suspects to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to convincing Kyrgyzstan to deny visas to all Taiwanese citizens, to ensuring that Taiwan was denied an invitation to the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization conference, Beijing is making it clear that it will not tolerate “separatism.” Tsai has responded that the people of Taiwan will not back down to pressure: China must “face up to the reality” that Taiwan not only exists, but that its people “have an unshakeable faith in the democratic system.”