Back in mid-2011, as succinctly explained by Taylor Fravel, Beijing sought to deescalate tensions with its neighbors by suddenly showing more interest in finding a rule-based solution to the South China Sea disputes. This was accompanied by high-level bilateral engagements with other claimant states, such as Vietnam. In many ways, it was a calibrated measure to assuage worried neighbors and counter the appeal of the Obama administration’s rebalancing towards the region. As China confronts growing external pressure and a deteriorating strategic position in the region, it is considering a similar maneuver, as exemplified by its early withdrawal of the oil rig from Vietnam’s EEZ. But it remains to be seen how far China is willing to scale back its territorial posturing. Much will depend on the countermaneuvers of other rival claimant states, as well as the extent and nature of American commitment to the region.
Richard Javad Heydarian is a lecturer in international affairs and political science at Ateneo De Manila University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian
Image: Flickr/Official U.S. Navy/CC by 2.0