BY Tim Ferguson
President Obama sealed a meeting today with visiting Philippine President Benigno Aquino III in a pledge to continue shoring up the Southeast Asian ally’s weak naval flank. The White House promised more technical and military support on top of the transferred Coast Guard craft that brushed up against a Chinese fishing fleet in recent days in contested waters in the South China Sea. Filipinos saw the incident as the latest in a string of resource-territorial inroads by the Chinese.
The Philippines-China disputes, and the presence of the U.S. in them, are described in depth in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal (this may be behind a paywall). But the ongoing South China Sea maneuvering involves not just Manila but the other members of ASEAN*, too, directly or indirectly. Vietnam, especially, has a history of rubs with China, including outright military conflict. Today it contests China over fishing and energy riches. Yet like most nations in the region, Vietnam is torn when it comes to the rising regional power–China is by far its biggest trading partner. The Chinese have amassed powerful suasion.