When the US Navy kicks off the world’s largest maritime military exercises on Monday, one country that was not invited to the 10-nation drill will be watching with particular interest.
Although Rim of the Pacific 2020 will be based in Hawaii, China will be tracking any joint manoeuvres by US friends and allies on the sidelines or after the exercise, especially in the heavily disputed South China Sea.
Since last month, when US secretary of state Mike Pompeo declared as illegal China’s vast maritime claims on the South China Sea, over which other countries ranging from Vietnam to the Philippines also claim partial sovereignty, the region has become the focal point of Washington’s strategic rivalry with Beijing.
But while the July 13 statement ended the US pretence of neutrality in the South China Sea, some argue it might already be too late to reverse China’s dominance in the region. Since 2012, Beijing has built and militarised a series of artificial islands in the area and, just as worrying, Washington’s oldest ally in the region the Philippines, is showing signs of wavering in the face of Chinese pressure.
“How is this rolling back the control China has established through its artificial islands?” said William Choong, an analyst at the Yusof Ishak Institute in…